Topic: Wastewater



Water containing wastes – aka wastewater – from residential, commercial and industrial processes requires treatment to remove pollutants prior to discharge. After treatment, the water is suitable for nonconsumption (nonpotable) and even potable use.

In California, water recycling is a critical component of the state’s efforts to use water supplies more efficiently. The state presently recycling about 669,000 acre-feet of water per year and has the potential to reuse an additional two million acre-feet per year. 

Non-potable uses include:

  • landscape and crop irrigation
  • stream and wetlands enhancement
  • industrial processes
  • recreational lakes, fountains and decorative ponds
  •  toilet flushing and gray water applications
  •  as a barrier to protect groundwater supplies from seawater intrusion
  • wetland habitat creation, restoration, and maintenance
  • groundwater recharge
Aquafornia news Silicon Valley

East Bay sewer district gets $250 million federal loan for upgrades

The Union Sanitary District will receive a $250 million federal infrastructure loan to upgrade its aging waste treatment facility. The cash infusion will help support the district’s roughly $510 million plan to significantly upgrade its 33-acre wastewater treatment facility in Union City, the largest improvement project it has ever undertaken. The project will take an estimated seven to 10 years to complete, officials said.

Aquafornia news Daily Democrat

Yolo County supervisors approve Teichert mining project along Cache Creek

The Teichert Mining and Reclamation project was approved by Yolo County supervisors following a lengthy presentation, deliberation and public comment session earlier this week. The Teichert Shifler Mining and Reclamation project involves an application to establish a new mining operation to extract sand and gravel aggregate along lower Cache Creek. Referred to as the Teichert Shifler operation, the mining would occur on 264.1 acres of a 319.3-acre site, with other project related uses on the remaining 55 acres.

Aquafornia news Voice of San Diego

Mysterious sewage spill baffles officials

Federal officials are investigating why millions of gallons of sewage-laden water isn’t making its way from Tijuana to the international wastewater treatment plant in the U.S. Instead, that untreated wastewater is flowing into San Diego through a border drain, which indicates there’s probably a broken pipe or a clog somewhere in Tijuana.  The runaway flow began Jan. 7 around 1:30 p.m. when almost a million gallons of sewage escaped from Tijuana through Stewart’s Drain, which sits just east of the International Wastewater Treatment plant operated by the International Boundary Water Commission. 

Aquafornia news ABC 10 (Imperial Beach)

Mexico leak causing wastewater overflow, U.S. beach contamination

A leak in Mexico is causing tens of millions of gallons of extra wastewater to flow into the United States, creating a domino effect on local beaches. Imperial Beach’s coastline has been closed since Dec. 8 with a sign that reads: “Keep out, sewage contaminated water,” which is not an uncommon sight in the area. However, a new issue in the last week will likely contribute to the ongoing problem. A spokesperson for the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) called a recent leak “unprecedented.” In the last week, daily flows through Stewart’s drain have quickly grown, surpassing 40 million gallons in a five-day span, which is astronomical for that drain.

Related article: 

Aquafornia news KCET

Commentary: It’s complicated – Water and Los Angeles

A creek rises at my doorstep. My driveway is a spillway washed by surf I’ve never heard. An estuary of the Pacific Ocean flows between the basketball courts and the picnic shelter in my neighborhood park. Where I live is seven miles from the coast, but the sea laps its streets unseen. The Los Angeles County Flood Control District manages the network of catch basins, laterals, conduits and channels that puts my doorstep one step away from the open ocean. The network is for stormwater, but it also carries the daily runoff from more than 2,000 square miles of watershed.

Aquafornia news Somach Simmons & Dunn

Blog: Proposed new Waters of the United States rule reminiscent of pre-2015 regulatory framework

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) recently released the long-anticipated proposed rule redefining the scope of waters protected by the Clean Water Act (CWA). The CWA strictly prohibits discharges of pollutants into “navigable waters of the United States” unless specifically permitted; however, the definition of what constitutes “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) has evolved over the past five decades, shifting with the political tides in Washington.

Related article: 

Aquafornia news Bakersfield Californian

Opinion: Sewage effluent is hurting oceans

Unfortunately, all California coastal communities pump millions of gallons of “sewage effluent” into the Pacific Ocean daily! All of these coastal cities are really to blame for the decrease of flora and fauna in our ocean. Communities in California who are not near the ocean deal with their sewage effluent in a far more environmentally sustainable manner. How? Valley cities and mountain communities rid themselves of their waste by recycling the effluent, which is used to make compost or irrigate farmland by growing crops that are not for human consumption or treating the effluent and recycling water for domestic needs.
-Written by Ed Davis, a professional agronomist, water science specialist, APCA, CCA and has been a business owner since 1981.

Aquafornia news NPR

In coastal areas, rising seas can also mean failing septic tanks

In rural, coastal areas, rising groundwater is flooding people’s properties from underneath, causing septic tanks to fail. States are responding, but it could be a losing battle in some places. … Sixty million Americans rely on septic tanks to flush their toilets. But extreme rain, floods and rising seas are making the ground too wet for many to work properly. As Zach Hirsch reports, the biggest problem is in rural coastal areas …

Aquafornia news Davis Enterprise

Opinion: More answers needed on mercury in Cache Creek

Teichert Construction is applying for a Yolo County permit to mine gravel on more than 250 acres of land in lower Cache Creek west of Woodland, which is now being used for agriculture. This proposal is problematic because the Cache Creek watershed naturally contains substantial deposits of mercury ore. It includes a US EPA Superfund site, Sulphur Bank Mercury Mine, located at the east end of Clear Lake.
-Written by Charles Salocks, an environmental toxicologist educated at UC Davis.  

Aquafornia news CBS News

Southern California beaches closed after massive sewage spill

Health officials closed several Southern California beaches after a massive sewage spill last week reached swimming areas. Beaches in Los Angeles County and the city of Long Beach were closed temporarily pending water quality tests … The spill was first reported on December 30 after a sewer collapsed in the city of Carson, following an intense rainstorm in the region. Officials said there was no threat to public health and property, but said untreated wastewater and sewage overflowed into a nearby storm drain, went through the Dominguez Channel and emptied into the Los Angeles Harbor. 

Aquafornia news NBC News

Sewage spill closes Southern California beaches

Southern California beaches from Orange to Los Angeles counties were closed over the holiday weekend after as many as 7 million gallons of untreated wastewater spilled into the Pacific Ocean, officials said Sunday. The spill happened after a series of late December storms brought heavy rainfall to the area. A section of Los Angeles County-run sewage system “collapsed,” sending untreated wastewater to already overwhelmed storm drains that lead to sea, some blocked by debris, the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts said in a series of statements.

Related article: 

Aquafornia news Voice of San Diego

What we learned this year: We’re still trying to fix the TJ River on the US side

At the start of 2021, it looked like the federal government might get serious about combatting the Tijuana River crisis by spending real money in Mexico, at the source of the problem. The excitement spilled over the border. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had some $300 million at its disposal, after the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement dedicated funds to the cross-border pollution saga. Margarita Diaz, an environmental activist with Proyecto Fronterizo de Educación Ambienta in Tijuana, was hopeful a big chunk of that money could go to fix long-broken pipes, pumps and treatment plants in Mexico.

Aquafornia news NPR

California sues Walmart for allegedly dumping hazardous items

California officials have filed a statewide lawsuit against Walmart alleging that the company illegally disposed of hazardous waste at landfills across the state. … ”Walmart’s own audits found that the company is dumping hazardous waste at local landfills at a rate of more than one million items each year. From there, these products may seep into the state’s drinking water as toxic pollutants or into the air as dangerous gases,” Bonta said in a statement.

Aquafornia news Mercury News

‘A deluge of omicron’ is coming, Santa Clara County’s health officer says

Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said Thursday she expects a “deluge” of omicron cases in the county as the COVID-19 variant begins sweeping across the Bay Area and residents start traveling and gathering for the holidays. … By Thursday, Cody said the county had detected omicron in all four of its wastewater plants, which she said serve a majority of the region’s population.

Aquafornia news Spectrum News 1

Wastewater stinks, but official says it could be a resource

For the third time since the 1970s, a project in Big Bear is proposing to use recycled wastewater to help supplement dwindling water supplies. You, your neighbors and, well, everyone has flushed a toilet. While most of us would rather flush and forget it, Big Bear Area Regional Wastewater Agency General Manager David Lawrence has a different perspective.

Aquafornia news High Country News

EPA announces $630 million plan to stem cross-border sewage flows

In March of 2018, the California cities of Imperial Beach, Chula Vista and the Port of San Diego sued the U.S. arm of the International Boundary and Water Commission over its failure to mitigate the flow of sewage-tainted water from the Tijuana River in Mexico. … In November, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that it had created a $630 million plan to address this long-standing cross-border hazard, according to The San Diego Tribune.

Aquafornia news San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board

News release: San Diego Water Board approves use of highly treated wastewater for groundwater replenishment

Furthering efforts to improve resilience and protect drinking water supplies threatened by climate change impacts, the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board for the first time has authorized the use of advanced treated recycled wastewater to replenish groundwater. The permit approved by the San Diego Water Board allows Pure Water Oceanside to inject up to three million gallons per day of highly treated water from its Advanced Water Purification Facility into the San Luis Rey Hydrologic Unit, where the recycled water will commingle with naturally occurring groundwater.

Related articles: 

Western Water Douglas E. Beeman Layperson's Guide to Groundwater Douglas E. Beeman

Water Resource Innovation, Hard-Earned Lessons and Colorado River Challenges — Western Water Year in Review
WESTERN WATER NOTEBOOK-Our 2019 articles spanned the gamut from groundwater sustainability and drought resiliency to collaboration and innovation

Smoke from the 2018 Camp Fire as viewed from Lake Oroville in Northern California. Innovative efforts to accelerate restoration of headwater forests and to improve a river for the benefit of both farmers and fish. Hard-earned lessons for water agencies from a string of devastating California wildfires. Efforts to drought-proof a chronically water-short region of California. And a broad debate surrounding how best to address persistent challenges facing the Colorado River. 

These were among the issues Western Water explored in 2019, and are still worth taking a look at in case you missed them.

Western Water California Water Map Gary Pitzer

Often Short of Water, California’s Southern Central Coast Builds Toward A Drought-Proof Supply
WESTERN WATER NOTEBOOK: Water agencies in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo counties look to seawater, recycled water to protect against water shortages

The spillway at Lake Cachuma in central Santa Barbara County. Drought in 2016 plunged its storage to about 8 percent of capacity.The southern part of California’s Central Coast from San Luis Obispo County to Ventura County, home to about 1.5 million people, is blessed with a pleasing Mediterranean climate and a picturesque terrain. Yet while its unique geography abounds in beauty, the area perpetually struggles with drought.

Indeed, while the rest of California breathed a sigh of relief with the return of wet weather after the severe drought of 2012–2016, places such as Santa Barbara still grappled with dry conditions.

Western Water California Water Map Gary Pitzer

A Study of Microplastics in San Francisco Bay Could Help Cleanup Strategies Elsewhere
WESTERN WATER NOTEBOOK: Debris from plastics and tires is showing up in Bay waters; state drafting microplastics plan for drinking water

Plastic trash and microplastics can get washed into stormwater systems that eventually empty into waterways. Blasted by sun and beaten by waves, plastic bottles and bags shed fibers and tiny flecks of microplastic debris that litter the San Francisco Bay where they can choke the marine life that inadvertently consumes it.

A collaborative effort of the San Francisco Estuary Institute, The 5 Gyre InstituteSan Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board and the regulated discharger community that aims to better understand the problem and assess how to manage it in the San Francisco Bay is nearing the end of a three-year study.

Western Water California Water Map

Your Don’t-Miss Roundup of Summer Reading From Western Water

Dear Western Water reader, 

Clockwise, from top: Lake Powell, on a drought-stressed Colorado River; Subsidence-affected bridge over the Friant-Kern Canal in the San Joaquin Valley;  A homeless camp along the Sacramento River near Old Town Sacramento; Water from a desalination plant in Southern California.Summer is a good time to take a break, relax and enjoy some of the great beaches, waterways and watersheds around California and the West. We hope you’re getting a chance to do plenty of that this July.

But in the weekly sprint through work, it’s easy to miss some interesting nuggets you might want to read. So while we’re taking a publishing break to work on other water articles planned for later this year, we want to help you catch up on Western Water stories from the first half of this year that you might have missed. 

Western Water California Water Map Gary Pitzer

Can Providing Bathrooms to Homeless Protect California’s Water Quality?
WESTERN WATER IN-DEPTH: The connection between homelessness and water is gaining attention under California human right to water law and water quality concerns

A homeless camp set up along the Sacramento River near downtown Sacramento. Each day, people living on the streets and camping along waterways across California face the same struggle – finding clean drinking water and a place to wash and go to the bathroom.

Some find friendly businesses willing to help, or public restrooms and drinking water fountains. Yet for many homeless people, accessing the water and sanitation that most people take for granted remains a daily struggle.

Western Water Layperson's Guide to California Wastewater Gary Pitzer

As Californians Save More Water, Their Sewers Get Less and That’s a Problem
WESTERN WATER NOTEBOOK: Lower flows damage equipment, concentrate waste and stink up neighborhoods; should water conservation focus shift outdoors?

Corrosion is evident in this wastewater pipe from Los Angeles County.Californians have been doing an exceptional job reducing their indoor water use, helping the state survive the most recent drought when water districts were required to meet conservation targets. With more droughts inevitable, Californians are likely to face even greater calls to save water in the future.

Western Water Colorado River Basin Map Gary Pitzer

‘Mission-Oriented’ Colorado River Veteran Takes the Helm as the US Commissioner of IBWC
WESTERN WATER Q&A: Jayne Harkins’ duties include collaboration with Mexico on Colorado River supply, water quality issues

Jayne Harkins, the U.S. Commissioner of the International Boundary and Water Commission.For the bulk of her career, Jayne Harkins has devoted her energy to issues associated with the management of the Colorado River, both with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and with the Colorado River Commission of Nevada.

Now her career is taking a different direction. Harkins, 58, was appointed by President Trump last August to take the helm of the United States section of the U.S.-Mexico agency that oversees myriad water matters between the two countries as they seek to sustainably manage the supply and water quality of the Colorado River, including its once-thriving Delta in Mexico, and other rivers the two countries share. She is the first woman to be named the U.S. Commissioner of the International Boundary and Water Commission for either the United States or Mexico in the commission’s 129-year history.

Western Water California Groundwater Map Layperson's Guide to Flood Management Gary Pitzer

Southern California Water Providers Think Local in Seeking to Expand Supplies
WESTERN WATER SIDEBAR: Los Angeles and San Diego among agencies pursuing more diverse water portfolio beyond imports

The Claude “Bud” Lewis Desalination Plant in Carlsbad last December marked 40 billion gallons of drinking water delivered to San Diego County during its first three years of operation. The desalination plant provides the county with more than 50 million gallons of water each day.Although Santa Monica may be the most aggressive Southern California water provider to wean itself from imported supplies, it is hardly the only one looking to remake its water portfolio.

In Los Angeles, a city of about 4 million people, efforts are underway to dramatically slash purchases of imported water while boosting the amount from recycling, stormwater capture, groundwater cleanup and conservation. Mayor Eric Garcetti in 2014 announced a plan to reduce the city’s purchase of imported water from Metropolitan Water District by one-half by 2025 and to provide one-half of the city’s supply from local sources by 2035. (The city considers its Eastern Sierra supplies as imported water.)

Western Water Groundwater Education Bundle Gary Pitzer

Imported Water Built Southern California; Now Santa Monica Aims To Wean Itself Off That Supply
WESTERN WATER SPOTLIGHT: Santa Monica is tapping groundwater, rainwater and tighter consumption rules to bring local supply and demand into balance

The Santa Monica Urban Runoff Recycling Facility (SMURRF) treats dry weather urban runoff to remove pollutants such as sediment, oil, grease, and pathogens for nonpotable use.Imported water from the Sierra Nevada and the Colorado River built Southern California. Yet as drought, climate change and environmental concerns render those supplies increasingly at risk, the Southland’s cities have ramped up their efforts to rely more on local sources and less on imported water.

Far and away the most ambitious goal has been set by the city of Santa Monica, which in 2014 embarked on a course to be virtually water independent through local sources by 2023. In the 1990s, Santa Monica was completely dependent on imported water. Now, it derives more than 70 percent of its water locally.

Aquapedia background

Septic Systems

In rural areas with widely dispersed houses, reliance upon a centralized sewer system is not practical compared to individual wastewater treatment methods. These on-site management facilities – or septic systems – are more commonplace given their simpler structure, efficiency and easy maintenance.

Aquapedia background


Microplastics – plastic debris measuring less than 5 millimeters – are an increasing water quality concern.  Entering the water as industrial microbeads or as larger plastic litter that degrade into small pellets, microplastics come from a variety of consumer products.

Aquapedia background

Coliform Bacteria

Coliform Bacteria as Indices

Directly detecting harmful pathogens in water can be expensive, unreliable and incredibly complicated. Fortunately, certain organisms are known to consistently coexist with these harmful microbes which are substantially easier to detect and culture: coliform bacteria. These generally non-toxic organisms are frequently used as “indicator species,” or organisms whose presence demonstrates a particular feature of its surrounding environment.

Aquapedia background

Biochemical Oxygen Demand

The biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) of water determines the impact of decaying matter on species in a specific ecosystem. Sampling for BOD tests how much oxygen is needed by bacteria to break down the organic matter.

Aquapedia background

Point Source vs. Nonpoint Source Pollution

Point Source Pollution

Point sources release pollutants from discrete conveyances, such as a discharge pipe, and are regulated by federal and state agencies. The main point source dischargers are factories and sewage treatment plants, which release treated wastewater.


Restoring a River: Voices of the San Joaquin

This 30-minute documentary-style DVD on the history and current state of the San Joaquin River Restoration Program includes an overview of the geography and history of the river, historical and current water delivery and uses, the genesis and timeline of the 1988 lawsuit, how the settlement was reached and what was agreed to.


A Climate of Change: Water Adaptation Strategies

This 25-minute documentary-style DVD, developed in partnership with the California Department of Water Resources, provides an excellent overview of climate change and how it is already affecting California. The DVD also explains what scientists anticipate in the future related to sea level rise and precipitation/runoff changes and explores the efforts that are underway to plan and adapt to climate.


Drinking Water: Quenching the Public Thirst (60-minute DVD)

Many Californians don’t realize that when they turn on the faucet, the water that flows out could come from a source close to home or one hundreds of miles away. Most people take their water for granted; not thinking about the elaborate systems and testing that go into delivering clean, plentiful water to households throughout the state. Where drinking water comes from, how it’s treated, and what people can do to protect its quality are highlighted in this 2007 PBS documentary narrated by actress Wendie Malick. 


Drinking Water: Quenching the Public Thirst (30-minute DVD)

A 30-minute version of the 2007 PBS documentary Drinking Water: Quenching the Public Thirst. This DVD is ideal for showing at community forums and speaking engagements to help the public understand the complex issues surrounding the elaborate systems and testing that go into delivering clean, plentiful water to households throughout the state.


Layperson’s Guide to Water Recycling
Updated 2013

As the state’s population continues to grow and traditional water supplies grow tighter, there is increased interest in reusing treated wastewater for a variety of activities, including irrigation of crops, parks and golf courses, groundwater recharge and industrial uses.


Layperson’s Guide to California Wastewater
Published 2013

The 28-page Layperson’s Guide to California Wastewater is an in-depth, easy-to-understand publication that provides background information on the history of wastewater treatment and how wastewater is collected, conveyed, treated and disposed of today. The guide also offers case studies of different treatment plants and their treatment processes.


Layperson’s Guide to the Delta
Updated 2020

The 24-page Layperson’s Guide to the Delta explores the competing uses and demands on California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Included in the guide are sections on the history of the Delta, its role in the state’s water system, and its many complex issues with sections on water quality, levees, salinity and agricultural drainage, fish and wildlife, and water distribution.

Aquapedia background Layperson's Guide to California Wastewater

Wastewater Treatment Process in California

Wastewater management in California centers on the collection, conveyance, treatment, reuse and disposal of wastewater. This process is conducted largely by public agencies, though there are also private systems in places where a publicly owned treatment plant is not feasible.

In California, wastewater treatment takes place through 100,000 miles of sanitary sewer lines and at more than 900 wastewater treatment plants that manage the roughly 4 billion gallons of wastewater generated in the state each day.

Western Water Magazine

A Drought-Proof Supply: The Promise of Recycled Water
July/August 2008

This printed copy of Western Water examines recycled water – its use, the ongoing issues and the prospects it holds for extending water supplies.