Wastewater facility expansion on schedule
Special to the Sun
The 120,000 gallons of raw sewage that spilled into Lake Tahoe on July 19 was supposed to end up some 30 miles away in Truckee.
Had it not been for an errant pile driver that broke a lakeside sewer pipe, the sewage would have made its way along the north shore of the lake to Tahoe City and then to Truckee and the Tahoe Truckee Sanitation Agency’s wastewater treatment plant east of the Highway 267 Bypass.
The plant, which is undergoing a $66 million expansion to accommodate new development in the area, serves the Truckee-Tahoe region’s five utility districts, and is a major contributor of reclaimed water to the Truckee River.
The TTSA broke ground on the project in 2002 after nine years of planning. The three main goals of the expansion, according to the sanitation agency’s General Manager Craig Woods, are to increase capacity from 7.4 million gallons of wastewater per day to 9.6 million gallons, install new equipment to remove nitrogen, and develop an additional way of separating water from solid material.
The objectives are close to fulfilled, Woods said. The expansion is two-thirds of the way complete and is expected to be completed in September 2006.
Acres of new buildings will be the home of a newer, cleaner and more advanced water treatment system. The new biological nitrogen removal (BNR) process will reduce the level of pollution by changing ammonia to nitrates and then to nitrogen gas. The gas will then be released into the atmosphere, which, Woods noted, is already made up of 80 percent nitrogen.
The $22 million system is the “creme de la creme” when it comes to sanitation agencies, Woods said.
“The TTSA’s biological nitrogen removal system will be one of only two or three in the United States, ” he said. “It is scheduled to be operating by December.”
The ultimate goal of the new process is to diminish the agency’s reliance on chemicals as it treats sewage. Eliminating chemicals will result in less salt being released into the Truckee River, Woods said. Thirty years from now the system will have prevented an estimated 26 million pounds of salt from making its way down the river to Pyramid Lake.
According to Woods the updated facility is the most environmental friendly system feasible at the moment. Only exceedingly sophisticated systems fueled by reverse osmosis are more advanced, but they have higher costs and energy usage.
Richard Anderson of the Truckee Town Council and publisher of California Fly Fisher Magazine said he has not seen a problem develop from the sanitation agency’s discharge of treated wastewater into the ground near the Truckee River.
“The TTSA has been more than competent in treating the water they release into the Truckee. Operations have had no significant negative effect on Martis Creek or the Truckee River,” Anderson said.
Even with a high degree of treatment, a direct discharge to the Truckee River is prohibited. Instead the plant effluent is routed through a leach field, providing additional treatment through the soil prior to surface water contact.