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Sacramento Completes $564 Million Wastewater Treatment Project

The project uses bacteria to remove more than 99 percent of ammonia from sewer water, which is part of a larger effort to ensure clean water quality and allow for potential recycling, which will increase drought resilience.

(TNS) — The Sacramento, Calif., Regional County Sanitation District, also known as Regional San, completed a $564 million wastewater treatment project this summer that uses bacteria to remove more than 99 percent of ammonia from sewer water.

The operation, which is called the Biological Nutrient Removal project, is a part of a larger undertaking called the EchoWater project.

The EchoWater project was established by Regional San to comply with regulations and to ensure clean water quality. The effort also allows for the potential reuse of water for landscape and agricultural irrigation.

The Biological Nutrient Removal campaign is the "heart" of EchoWater, said Christoph Dobson, the general manager at Regional San. It entails a new treatment facility that is as big as 18 football fields and has eight large water basins, where oxygen and bacteria is released into wastewater to remove organic matter and ammonia.

"We have a pipe that is at the bottom of the Sacramento River near Freeport and so after we clean the water, it's safely discharged at that location," he said.

Dobson explained that ammonia is a form of nitrogen.

"Nitrogen is a nutrient but if you have too much of that nutrient, it can cause harm to the environment downstream of our discharge," he said.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, high levels of ammonia in water can impact aquatic life, resulting in "toxic buildup in internal tissues and blood, and potentially death."

Not only does the removal of ammonia help protect the ecosystem in the Sacramento River, but it can help improve water quality across California.

"A lot of that water goes south to southern California so its a very integral part of the whole state's water system," Dobson said, referring to water that flows in the Sacramento River and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. "We're discharging our clean effluent into that water body, so if we can make it even cleaner when its being discharged, then that does affect the water that goes throughout California."

While most of the water is being discharged, Dobson said that in the "not too distant future," the agency plans to use a lot of the water for farming and agriculture.

"By being able to reuse that water, it allows us, essentially, to reduce the use of potable water or reduce the pumping of ground water," he said. "So in both of those cases, we are, in a sense, creating or supplementing a water source. That's very helpful in terms of drought resilience."

Overall, the EchoWater project costs $1.7 billion, according to Nicole Coleman, the public affairs manager at the Sacramento Area Sewer District and Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District. It is funded by Regional San customers, in which they pay a monthly rate for wastewater transportation and treatment processes.

But the agency did receive a loan, more than $1.5 billion, from the State of California's Clean Water State Revolving Fund.

"The low-interest loan from the state helped save ratepayers more than a half billion dollars in interest—helping Regional San keep rates lower than projected for ratepayers," Coleman said.

Initially, the agency estimated that rates would be $65 each for single family residences per month with the completion of the Biological Nutrient Project, Dobson said.

"At this point in time, our rates are $37 a month, and we stopped the last increase a couple of years back," he added.

He said they do not expect to have increases in rates for several years.

(c)2021 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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