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Important Hearing Next Week!

Families Protecting the Valley, among other water organizations, has been very vocal in educating the public about wastewater

Nov 29, 2010


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Board of Directors

Denis Prosperi
Chester Andrew
Bob Smittcamp
Russ Waymire
John "Dusty" Giacone
Joe Marchini
Mark Watte
Kole Upton
Piedad Ayala
Tom Barcellos
Jim Walls

Important Hearing Next Week!
According to the Association of California Water Agencies, "the Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District's treatment plant near Freeport discharges about 141 million gallons per day of secondary-level treated wastewater.  The discharge, which accounts for over 60% of all municipal wastewater discharged to the Delta, contains 14 tons per day of ammonia and is considered a major source of ammonia to the river and the Delta."  The public hearing on proposed new discharge requirements for the SRCSD is next week(12/9/10) in Rancho Cordova.  Several organizations are urging the Regional Board to adopt a draft discharge permit that could require the Sacramento metropolitan area to reduce the amount of ammonia it discharges into the Sacramento River from the treatment plant. 

Families Protecting the Valley, among other water organizations, has been very vocal in educating the public about wastewater/sewage/pharmaceuticals being dumped in the Delta and being a major problem in the health of the Delta.  While most of the attention during the past years has been focused on Central Valley farm water and Southern California water diversions, we believe the major problem contributing to the decline in the Delta is the wastewater, not only of Sacramento, but also of other cities.  Farm water has been cut, but the Delta's health has not improved.  It would appear that they just need our water to dilute their sewage.  Until the wastewater/pharmaceutical problem is dealt with, the Delta will continue to decline.  We urge the Regional Board to require the reduction of ammonia from the Sacramento plant. 

Viewpoints: Sacramento overdue for upgrade of wastewater treatment plant

Special to The Bee

Published Saturday, Nov. 27, 2010

California's water-quality problems are often the underlying challenge to maintaining adequate supplies. Whether it is groundwater salinity in the Central Valley or groundwater contamination in Southern California basins, damage to the quality of water threatens both the environment and the economy.

In Sacramento, a major water- quality problem is the wastewater discharge from the regional treatment facility. It is time to address this problem. Its very real threat to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta poses a threat to California's overall economic well-being.

The Santa Ana River, as an example of a watershed operating under modern standards, is a key source of drinking water for Riverside and Orange counties. This has prompted the regional water quality control board over the years to require upgrades of the wastewater facilities on the river so that the discharge does not pose a threat to millions of residents and visitors who rely on this supply. Every member agency of the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority that discharges wastewater into this river has upgraded to advanced, tertiary treatment technology.

The Delta is a drinking water source for 25 million Californians. There is no greater, no more important drinking water supply for California than the Delta. Equally important, the Delta is an estuary, widely regarded as the most important such environment on the West Coast.

The Delta didn't face the same environmental crisis that it does today when a much smaller Sacramento region in 1982 built a single large wastewater facility on the Sacramento River. But over the years, this estuary has clearly suffered from a variety of stresses. Water diversions in and upstream of the Delta are a stress, but so are invasive species and habitat loss and yes, wastewater discharges.

The Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District facility has not d its treatment technology in its generation of existence. It still operates under a "secondary" form of treatment that does not remove forms of nitrogen such as ammonium. An estimated 14 tons of ammonium enter the river every day.

Research has traced this plume as far as Suisun Bay and identified when this degradation of water quality profoundly shifts the Delta food web to the detriment of native, endangered species. Every major environmental regulatory agency disagrees with the district's belief that the science is insufficient to require advanced forms of wastewater treatment. The staff of the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board has recommended treatment plant upgrades to its board for deliberations in December.

The Sacramento sanitation district is threatening to quintuple connection fees for new homes and businesses if forced to install the upgrades. This threat has understandably set off alarms in the local business community. But this funding strategy is contrary to standard industry practice. New connections are legally not on the line to pay disproportionately for a treatment plant upgrade that is necessary due to an existing, underlying problem. Monthly rates will need to rise comparable to other areas where treatment systems have been brought up to modern standards. Affordability is not the issue here. The issue is protecting the Delta and water quality.

The cost-effective time to take action is now. At the moment, the State Water Quality Control Board has low-interest funds available for treatment plant upgrades. The state and EPA could help Sacramento and other communities by extending the payback time for these loans from 20 years to 30 or even 40 years. The expected life span of this upgraded facility justifies such an extension.

Communities statewide are making investments to shift to more sustainable water and wastewater practices. For Sacramento, improving water quality is a positive. It is a key part of a true green agenda.

It is time for the local wastewater district and its leaders to shift the community dialogue from one of false panic to one that exemplifies this great region's true ethic – stewardship.

Celeste Cantú is general manager of the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority and former executive director of the State Water Resources Control Board.



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