Sacramento's Sanitation District Plans $1.5 Billion Upgrade

Sacramento expects to spend at least $1.5 billion on a wastewater system upgrade. Only a few recent public works projects, like freeways and public transit, carry a similar price tag.

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After initially challenging the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board’s findings that elevated volumes of ammonia and pathogens were present in the water flowing out of the Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant, Sacramento’s sanitation district has agreed to move forward with updates that could total $2 billion, according to an article in The Sacramento Bee.

The compromise requires the district to filter most of the wastewater flowing into the plant, which will reduce potential environmental harm and save the district about $100 million. The sanitation district plans to filter wastewater with sand and anthracite coal, a rather inexpensive method that will save an additional $200 million, says District Engineer Prabhakar Somavarapu in the article. 

A massive undertaking
Regardless of these reductions, the project will cost at least $1.5 billion. Only a few recent public works projects in the area have carried a price tag anywhere close to this, and unlike large-scale municipal projects such as freeways or public transit, this one is “generally out of sight, out of mind,” for residents, says Somavarapu.

Ratepayers will end up footing the bill, and the district estimates monthly sewer rates in the area — currently $26 per single-family home — will double by 2023.

“When you’re asking people to pay greater rates, they want to know where you are and what you do,” says Somavarapu to the Bee. “Outreach is important.”

Public relations
The district launched a public outreach campaign last year by hosting plant tours and adopting a new nickname and motto: “Regional San: Taking the waste out of water.” They’ve even coined a nickname for the massive project: EchoWater.

“We’re trying to be more approachable,” says Claudia Goss, a district spokeswoman in the article.

Because the wastewater will go through tertiary treatment, the district is working on plans to pipe water 6 miles north to the Sacramento Municipal Utility’s cogeneration facility that could use 365 million gallons per year for cooling purposes.

The district is also planning to pipe water south, to farmers such as Ken Oneto, who is a member of the Sacramento County Farm Bureau. “It makes more sense to use that water than groundwater,” he says in the article. “I think everybody around here would embrace the water if the price was comparable.”

To accomplish this, the district needs permission from the state Water Resources Control Board, and the plant currently discharges water that replenishes the depleted Delta, so those plans aren’t guaranteed. Nonetheless, officials believe the notion of using recycled water in place of drinking water or groundwater should prevail.

“Once we upgrade the plant in seven or eight years, our entire output is available for recycling,” Somavarapu concludes. “Sustainability is part of our fabric.” 

Editor's Note: For more information on the Sacramento Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant, please read 'Into the Fog" and "Working Together."


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