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Sanitation agency plans $35 million expansion

ALEX FREEMON, Sierra Sun

Growth brings sewage, and the Tahoe-Truckee Sanitation Agency (TTSA) has drafted plans to expand their facilities to handle the area’s rising tide of wastewater.

“All of us are aware that there is increased growth in the area, and TTSA, being a public utility, is going to expand to accommodate that anticipated growth,” said Craig Woods, TTSA’s general manager for the Martis Valley plant.

Woods explained that expansion plans were based on growth expectations in each city and county’s general plan. He estimated that the expansion will accommodate the Truckee area’s growth up until 2015.

Expansion will increase the plant’s capacity from 7.4 to 9.6 million gallons of wastewater a day, at a projected cost of around $35 million.

Woods said that the cost will be raised from the $4,000 new connection charges for a single family home, as well as price increases over the current $13/month charge for some users.

Woods said that he has looked into funding the expansion in part with money from the $900 million in federal grants promised in 1997 for erosion control and air quality measures for the Lake Tahoe basin. But that funding may not materialize.

“We’re not too optimistic,” he said.

Plans for the expansion, which began two years ago, are in their final stages of environmental review, but Woods is confident that they will pass.

“We have received some comments on the planned expansion’s impacts on water quality,” Woods said, “and we are attempting to address those.”

He explained that most sanitation agencies stop treating the water after a secondary stage of being digested by anaerobic bacteria and clarified, but that TTSA goes further to remove nitrogen and phosphorus.

These expensive advanced procedures involve passing the water through activated charcoal and a compound similar to kitty litter that rearranges ions to remove ammonia.

“Only the top plants in the U.S. get (this) tertiary treatment. It’s very rare,” said Jerry Peacock, associate water resource control engineer at the Lahontan District Water Quality Board. “The level of treatment here is almost higher than any other plant,” he added.

Part of the reason that TTSA’s treatment is so advanced is due to the challenging environment where the effluent must be reabsorbed in a sensitive environment. The dry weather, the proximity of protected rivers, the major city downstream and the water’s terminus in a protected inland lake make it especially important for TTSA to clean wastewater thoroughly.

When the water leaves the plant, it is percolated back into the ground through a leach field and ultimately finds its way back into the Truckee River.

“It mixes with Truckee River water and is consumed by the folks downstream,” Woods said, adding that such an arrangement is typical of water treatment. He said that the processed water amounts to roughly 1 percent of river water and meets California’s stringent standards.

“The Truckee River Operating Agreement (TROA) is largely a quantity issue – expansion is largely a quality issue,” said Peacock, explaining that the plant poses a negligible threat of pollution to the TROA standard.

Woods confirmed that “in this case, it’s not quantity of water but assimilative capacity.” Woods said that the Sierra ecosystem can handle the projected effluent.

Peacock added that while the plant will meet California standards, there is some concern that generally stricter Nevada standards will pose a problem. In the meantime, Woods is confident that any pollution even in the increased outflow is negligible.

“A year ago we did some special sampling for the (Lahontan) regional board and determined that MTBEs were detectable but below the drinking water limits,” Woods said. “We’ve done some follow-up sampling, and it looks like those numbers have fallen further to almost non-detect levels.”

The real problem, Peacock said, is long-term water management agreements between Nevada and California. “The issues that we have here are part of interstate allocation of water that has to be resolved,” he said.

But any resolution to the bigger picture will still rely on present systems since there are few alternatives for handling wastewater.

“There are no real future solutions for water management since gray water and toilet-to-tap measures are hard to implement,” said Woods about some plans that water-scarce Southern California has put forth. He said that TTSA is experimenting with filtering water at high pressure but is not yet certain of how viable that will be.

TTSA’s planned expansion now must also face negotiations with the neighboring Truckee-Tahoe Airport District since airport rules prohibit public utility stations from being built in certain safety zones. While the details have not yet been addressed, Woods said that TTSA’s expansion plans will take the airport’s land use requirements into consideration.

“Because we are adjacent to the airport, some of the safety zones will influence TTSA,” he said.

TTSA was created in the early 1970s when the plant was built to collect sewage from five independent public utility districts.

TTSA’s board is made up of representatives of the five different regions that feed the plant: North Tahoe PUD, Tahoe City PUD, Alpine Springs County Water District, Squaw Valley County Water District and Truckee Sanitary District.

The combined area feeds the plant with sewage from 25,000 permanent residents and up to 90,000 people in peak seasons. The six million gallons of sewage produced daily flows the 17 miles from Tahoe to TTSA’s treatment plant under the bike path alongside the Truckee River.


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