Finding a place for Royal Gorge waste |

Finding a place for Royal Gorge waste

Seth Lightcap/Sierra SunChief Plant Operator Jim King and Plant General Manager Tom Skjelstad of the Donner Summit Public Utility District discuss changes that would be required to the district's wast treatment plant to process waste from the 950 proposed residential units at Royal Gorge.

First, skeptics of the proposed Royal Gorge project sharply questioned where the water for the ambitious Summit development would come from.

At a meeting Tuesday of the Donner Summit Public Utility District, the critics turned their attention to where the wastewater from the development would be treated.

The utility district has had plans to expand its sewage treatment plant to serve existing lots in the area, but not enough for the 950 units planned for Royal Gorge.

As the Royal Gorge project advances through the planning process, the district must answer the question of whether to further expand the treatment plant or not, which would force Royal Gorge to build its own costly plant.

Royal Gorge consultants from Carollo Engineers studied the two alternatives and other disposal methods once the effluent is treated at the plant, said Andre Gharagozian of Carollo at Tuesday night’s board meeting.

The consulting engineer said his firm considered two methods of disposing of treated wastewater, whether from an expanded district facility or from a new treatment plant. The district’s current practice is to discharge treated wastewater into the Yuba River in winter and spraying it on vegetation during the summer, and the consultants also considered creating a subsurface dispersal system that would leach treated sewage into the ground.

“The preferred options are [expanding the existing plant],” Gharagozian said. “There would be less environmental impact, less disturbed area, and it would give the district the option of improving the quality of the discharge.”

To make sure the plant’s planned expansion for existing need isn’t dependent on the approval of the Royal Gorge project, Gharagozian suggested the district choose a modular design for the plant expansion.

District General Manager Tom Skjelstad said the planned expansion could happen around 2010 or 2011, depending on the permitting process.

Gharagozian projected Royal Gorge’s need for an expanded treatment plant between 2010 and 2012.

Expanding the existing plant would be less expensive than Royal Gorge building a new plant “in the order of tens of millions of dollars,” said Project Manager Mike Livak. “Whether it’s 40 or 60 million dollars, depending on the alternative.”

Livak said the purchase price of the Royal Gorge property is not publicly available for comparison.

“Generally on a project like this, one might expect the capital costs of infrastructure and construction could certainly exceed the land cost,” Livak said.

The district’s Skjelstad said customer rates could still go up because of higher treatment requirements as a part of the new permit, but more customers from Royal Gorge could help spread out the costs.

“Doing the projects together would make both projects cheaper,” he said.

The benefit of more customers would come from more waste to treat, said district consultant Bob Emerick, which would allow the biological component of the treatment process to remain alive through the seasonal ebb and flow of wastewater.

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