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April 3, 2018 > How the Clean Water Act Put the ?Super? in the USD?s Super Sewer

How the Clean Water Act Put the ?Super? in the USD?s Super Sewer

Submitted By Michelle Powell

Most readers have heard of the Federal Clean Water Act, but did you know that it was the catalyst that made Union Sanitary District?s (USD) infrastructure what it is today? Prior to changes required by 1972 amendments to the Act, USD had three treatment plants: Irvington in south Fremont, Newark, and Alvarado in Union City. The Irvington and Newark plants disposed of treated wastewater in the bay, south of the Dumbarton bridge, as did several other agencies in the region. The amended Clean Water Act led the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to determine that the bay was too shallow in those areas to receive wastewater at the level of treatment that was common back then. USD and many other agencies were given a timetable for phasing out those types of discharges there.

New regulations affecting discharges close to shorelines all around the Bay led several agencies to search for solutions. USD teamed up with Oro Loma and Castro Valley Sanitary Districts and the Cities of Hayward and San Leandro, forming the East Bay Dischargers Authority (EBDA), to explore possibilities. This is where the concept of the ?Super Sewer?, a shared large-diameter line that would discharge treated wastewater further offshore and in deeper waters of the Bay, was developed.

This seemingly simple idea was in fact a very complex venture. To participate in the ?Super Sewer?, USD had to find a way to convey wastewater from its former Irvington and Newark locations up to the Alvarado plant for treatment, and the plant would need expansion to handle the additional flows. Although the EPA and state would partially fund the project, investment by communities using the EBDA line would be necessary.

There were many potential downsides to not moving forward with the Super Sewer, including daily fines for discharging in the current locations, cease and desist orders from the State Water Board, and building moratoriums imposed by the state. Still, public debate about the necessity of the project was lively, to say the least, sparking extensive media coverage and passionate campaigns for USD Board directorships.

A bond measure for the Super Sewer was on the November 1976 ballot, and after many public meetings, newspaper articles, and advertisements, Measure W to fund the EBDA line was passed by its communities. Twin pressurized lines called Force Mains, each about three feet in diameter, and three large pump stations were completed in 1980 to transport wastewater from the Irvington and Newark locations to our Alvarado Plant, where it is treated and released to the much larger EDBA line. USD?s discharge is joined by the releases of our EBDA partners as it travels north underground near the East Bay?s edge. The EBDA pipeline turns left just below the Oakland airport, moving treated wastewater about four miles out into a deeper shipping channel in the Bay where it is dispersed through a diffuser.

USD?s Newark and Irvington Plants were decommissioned after the EBDA line became operational. Our Newark and Irvington pump stations constructed on their sites are still in use today to pump wastewater into the Force Mains. Like much of the nation?s infrastructure, the Super Sewer is aging and requires attentive maintenance. You can find out more about how USD?s staff cleans and maintains our Force Mains at our Centennial Open House on May 19, 2018, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at our Treatment Plant and Headquarters in Union City. Hear about ?pigging the Force Mains? ? and no, real pigs are not involved!

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