Protecting Our Environment and the Fragile Delta Ecosystem
As the region has grown since our treatment plant first went online in 1982, we have remained committed to balancing our dual roles of cost effectively serving our customers while protecting the environment and public health. Through the years, we have demonstrated an excellent record of regulatory compliance under some of the most demanding environmental rules. At the same time, however, the Delta downstream has experienced serious environmental struggles. This is a matter of statewide concern because the Delta supplies a big part of the water needed throughout California.
There are many possible reasons for the Delta’s decline, and many efforts are underway to study the science of the problem and find long-term solutions. Factors gaining the most attention include:
Physical changes in the Delta (transforming from wetlands to channels and levees)
Water diversions and changes in flow patterns
Loss of fish from diverting water
Invasive species that change the ecosystem
Pollutants from a variety of sources
Regional San’s discharge has been targeted as a potential contributor to the Delta’s problems, mostly due to ammonia and nitrate remaining in the effluent after treatment. We take that very seriously. As a result, we’ve been working very closely with other agencies to advance the science and discover how best to address the Delta’s decline.
Meanwhile, regulators at the Central Valley Regional Water Control Board (Regional Water Board), the state agency that regulates wastewater dischargers in our region, decided in 2010 to mandate strict new water quality requirements in Regional San’s discharge permit (which is renewed every five years). These dramatic regulatory changes were unprecedented in Regional San’s history.
The Evolution of EchoWater
In order to comply with the new discharge requirements, we must design and build major new treatment infrastructure and have it operational by 2021-2023. We’re calling this major treatment upgrade the EchoWater Project.
Given the tight timeline to complete a project of this magnitude, we quickly started testing potential treatment methods to meet the new standards. Currently, our wastewater receives “secondary” treatment, which involves several steps, including separation of larger solids from the wastewater, biological treatment to break down small organic particles, and disinfection with chlorine. This level of treatment has been more than adequate in meeting previous discharge permit requirements.
Now, however, we need to make very costly upgrades that will change our existing secondary process and also add an advanced “tertiary” level of treatment. First, large facilities for biological nutrient removal (BNR) will be constructed to take out nearly all of the ammonia and most of the nitrates in our wastewater during secondary treatment. This will help address concerns about the possible impacts these constituents may have on the ecosystem here and downstream. Then, tertiary-level filtration will be added to better remove smaller particles and pathogens (i.e., viruses and bacteria), as compared with the existing treatment process. Finally, enhanced disinfection will help inactivate any pathogens that may still remain after treatment.
Meeting the new standards can be achieved using a variety of processes and technologies. Therefore, it was important to conduct a series of studies at a small-scale pilot project to determine the most feasible and cost-effective solutions. These pilot studies helped identify lower-cost technologies for the full-scale EchoWater project that could save several hundred million dollars in project costs compared to those initially anticipated.
In 2015, Regional San began construction of the EchoWater Project, which will continue for the next several years.
Project Cost and Impact on Customers
Given the estimated $1.5–2.1 billion it will cost to build the EchoWater Project, we expect customers’ monthly rates will gradually increase from the current rate to the high $30s by 2021–2023.
One way Regional San has worked to save our ratepayers money is in securing favorable financing for the project. In April 2015, the project was approved to receive nearly $1.6 billion in low-interest financing from the State of California’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund. The favorable loan terms will save ratepayers more than a half billion dollars in interest costs. This is the largest single block of financing ever issued to a project under the program. Read more here.
Low-interest financing for the EchoWater Project has been provided in part by the Clean Water State Revolving Fund through an agreement with the State Water Resources Control Board. The contents of this document do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the State Water Resources Control Board, nor does mention of trade names or commercial products constitute endorsement or recommendation for use.
When EchoWater is completed, the Sacramento Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant will be capable of meeting our region’s needs well into the future. It will produce cleaner water for discharge to the Sacramento River, which will help protect the Delta downstream. It will also substantially increase water recycling opportunities (e.g., for agricultural irrigation, public landscapes, and industrial processes) by producing highly treated water that meets water reuse standards. Use of recycled water helps preserve our precious water supplies, especially during drought conditions.
In the end, the EchoWater Project—by putting cleaner water back in the Sacramento River—will benefit our environment and ensure safe and reliable service for generations to come.
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