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
Non-potable uses include:
landscape and crop irrigation
stream and wetlands enhancement
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Californians have been doing an
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.
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.
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.)
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
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.
In rural areas with widely dispersed houses, reliance upon a
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Wastewater management in California centers on the collection,
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.