The improvements identified in the Clean Water Program are necessary to provide high quality, reliable wastewater services, meet the requirements of the 2009 cease and desist order to eliminate sanitary sewer overflows, and integrate more sustainable technologies at the WWTP.
Later this month, San Mateo’s Public Works Department will host three community meetings to share information and provide an update on the progress of the Clean Water Program. This ten-year capital improvement program is a once-in-a-generation investment in the City’s sewer collection system and the Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP).
The sewer collection system is not something you typically think about. You flush your toilet, rinse food from a plate; it goes down the drain, and into a labyrinth of pipes beneath the city. That’s just the beginning of the process.
Sweeping views of San Mateo and the Bay Area from the top of the digester at the Wastewater Treatment Plant
Last spring, the opportunity to tour the Wastewater Treatment Plant presented itself. This was an eye-opening experience. The best views of San Mateo are at the top of the digester and eventually any odor, no matter how strong, will fade into the background. However, it became apparent that the infrastructure providing one of our community’s most essential services is in need of an upgrade.
San Mateo’s Wastewater Treatment Plant provides 24/7 service to the San Mateo community and beyond. Foster City, portions of Hillsborough, the Crystal Springs Sanitation District, and some parts of unincorporated San Mateo County also rely on this system for the proper treatment of wastewater. The goals of the Clean Water Program will replace aging infrastructure and facilities, build wet weather capacity, meet current and future regulatory requirements, and align with sustainability goals.
This visible portion of a pump station is one example of the sewer collection system’s aging infrastructure.
San Mateo’s sewer collection system includes about 234 miles of sanitary sewer pipelines, 5,555 sewer manholes, and 26 pump stations. Components of this system and the WWTP are long past their useful life. Portions of the plant date back to the 1940’s and most of the sewer pipes, originally installed in the early 1900’s through the 1960’s, only had an expected life of 50 to 60 years. One component of the Clean Water Program is to install larger sewer lines throughout the system. An assessment of the pump stations is also taking place, and upgrades will be prioritized.
Additionally, as sewer lines age, storm water and groundwater can more easily make its way into the sewer system. Once that water comes in contact with the wastewater in the sewer lines, it becomes wastewater itself and must get treated at the Wastewater Treatment Plant. On an ordinary dry weather day, approximately 11 million gallons of wastewater is treated before being released into the Bay. When it rains, the amount of water treated can increase by up to eight times that amount. Part of the Clean Water Program is to build “wet weather capacity assurance” into the collection system and plant to allow conveyance of the wet weather flows without overflowing into streets and waterways and increase the Wastewater Treatment Plant’s ability to quickly treat that water.
The San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board regulates the sanitary sewer collection system and WWTP, and regulations continue to change and evolve. Building additional wet weather capacity will help to meet the mandates of the 2009 cease and desist order, and the Clean Water Program allows staff to keep in close communication with our regulatory boards to improve our ability to be responsive and adapt to potential future regulatory changes.
City and state representatives, and project consultants celebrate December’s groundbreaking of the BioGas to CNG project.
Creating a more sustainable system provides San Mateo with the opportunity to look towards the future and put systems in place that will help to protect the San Francisco Bay. The proposed technology approaches at the WWTP will not only meet current treatment regulations but will prepare the WWTP to meet anticipated future increased regulations and treat wastewater to a quality level which can be used as a recycled water source. Infrastructure is currently being built to convert BioGas, produced by the plant’s digesters, to clean natural gas. It will be used to fuel CNG vehicles, provide clean energy for plant operations, and create a lower carbon footprint for our community.
Public education and awareness are key components of the Clean Water Program. If you aren’t familiar with it or want to know more, then plan to attend one of the meetings for an overview of the sewer collection system and progress on the Clean Water Program. Additionally, an educational resource available on the Clean Water Program website called “Wastewater, the Basics” gives basic definitions and diagrams of the different types of aging facilities addressed in the program.
The meetings take place on Tuesday, March 22 at Parkside Elementary School; Wednesday, March 23, at Sunnybrae Elementary School; and Wednesday, March 30 in the Council Chambers at San Mateo City Hall. All meetings take place from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. Attend the one that best fits your schedule. For more information, please visit www.cleanwaterprogramsanmateo.org and consider signing up to receive email updates about the program.