September 19, 2006 > Glug, glug, glug
Glug, glug, glug
by Arnie Becker
While standing in your shower, do you ever wonder where the dirty water goes or who has responsibility for dealing with it? Who treats that waste water before dumping it into San Francisco Bay? It's a complex process involving far more than household discharge. There's also liquid waste from large industrial plants, like the NUMMI automobile factory, the Seagate plant, and hundreds of small businesses such as restaurants, beauty shops, pest control companies and many, many more sources of used and dirty water.
In 2005, the Union Sanitary District (USD) received the "Collection System of the Year" award from the California Water Environment Association (CWEA) in recognition of outstanding regulatory compliance, maintenance, safety, training, emergency preparedness and administration. TCV visited the award-winning wastewater treatment plant, in Union City and spoke with USD General Manager Richard B. Currie and Communications Coordinator Michelle Powell. They explained that the 130 employees of the district are responsible for 770 miles of wastewater pipeline under the cities of Newark, Fremont and Union City.
Wastewater is collected and transported to pumping stations by this extensive system, long enough to stretch from this area to Hollywood, Calif. and back again. Mains transport sewage from Irvington and Newark pump stations to the USD treatment plant equipped with "odor scrubbers" in Union City. A combination of physical and biological treatment processes, known as "secondary" treatment, remove 95 percent of the solids and organic materials.
A member of the East Bay Dischargers Authority (EBDA), effluent from USD's Alvarado Wastewater Treatment Plant is pumped to the EBDA outfall and discharged into the deep waters of the Bay north of Oakland International Airport. Frequent testing of treated wastewater confirms that fish can live in the discharge waters. As an example of the success of USD prevention programs, harmful metals in wastewater discharge have been reduced by 600 percent! Now, new programs are being developed to prevent other potentially harmful discharges from entering the sewers.
Remember the leak in the British Petroleum crude oil pipeline in Alaska a few weeks ago? The company has acknowledged that poor maintenance led to the equipment failure. Currie and his Collection Services teams make sure this kind of thing does not happen here. Think about the consequences if a major pipeline ruptured in the middle of a residential neighborhood. To avoid such a disaster, pipes are inspected through a television surveillance system that scans every inch of those 770 miles. These surveillance videos are now in digital form and can be viewed on the maintenance team's computers. This allows them to spot trouble in the making--and fix it--before anyone is affected.
In 1991, the Union Sanitary District assumed responsibility for the 145-acre Hayward Marsh Project. Before the marsh was restored from abandoned salt ponds, there was no wildlife habitat at the site. Now the marsh is a popular stop for migratory waterfowl and includes a preserve for the endangered Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse. High quality treated effluent supplied by the District is the fresh water source for the marsh ecosystem. The Hayward Marsh is the largest wetland of its kind to be irrigated solely with treated wastewater.
What have you been doing with your excess or outdated prescription drugs? In the past, we've been told to throw them down the toilet. Just imagine what would happen to our fish, crabs and sea plants if the water containing this material was not treated and monitored carefully to make sure there is no drug residue in the water before it leaves the treatment plant. Times have changed, though. Now, the district establishes disposal containers at various events throughout the year. Check the district's website for details and dispose of your old or unneeded medicines in a safe, environmentally friendly manner.
Currie said, "A growing problem is people using turkey roasters that use large amounts of cooking oil. The first thing many people think of doing with the used oil is to dump it down the sink or down the sewer. There are proper, legal ways to dispose of this used cooking oil that will not clog the sewer lines. Household oils and fats are among the major causes of clogging and then backups."
Tri City residents may now dispose of used cooking oils and fats in a large drum at Allied Waste. USD personnel remove and replace this drum. There is no charge for this service and proof-of-residency is not required. For more information call Allied Waste Customer Service (510) 657-3500.
In order to make sure today's children understand the problems associated with dumping waste down the sewer, the Union Sanitary District provides interesting, informative presentations, geared to the appropriate age level, starting with students in the 5th grade. The primary topic is the difference between sanitary sewers and storm drains. Storm drains and catch basins go directly into our creeks and to the Bay without any treatment. Sanitary sewers feed into the district collection system where all waste is processed before reaching the Bay.
In high schools, USD programs build on grade school awareness by bringing in samples of water from various stages of treatment. This visual demonstration illustrates the threat of untreated water flowing directly to the bay.
So, the next time you settle into the comfort and convenience of your indoor plumbing, take a moment to reflect on the part your local sanitary district plays. If it weren't for them, you'd be swatting flies and trying to hold your breath in an outhouse!
Union Sanitary District
Wastewater Treatment Plant and Administration Building
5072 Benson Road
Union City, 94587-2508