Pacific Southwest, Region 9
Serving: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Pacific Islands, Tribal Nations
Progress Report 2010:
Water quality is something many of us take for granted. For the vast majority of Americans, healthful drinking water is available at the turn of a tap. However, thousands of miles of water and sewer lines, and drinking water and wastewater treatment facilities, must be built, maintained, upgraded and ultimately replaced.
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Today, most of this infrastructure in urban areas is more than half a century old, and long overdue for renewal. In 2009, EPA provided substantial new funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to help all 50 states make inroads on this growing backlog, while putting people back to work during the nation’s worst economic downturn since the 1930s.
The biggest funding increases came where they were most needed—on Pacific Island territories, where tap water is not always drinkable
EPA has also been involved in ongoing efforts to restore the ecological health of the San Francisco Bay Delta Estuary, the West Coast’s largest estuary. In 2009, EPA used the enforcement tools of the Clean Water Act to require infrastructure renewal, provided partial funding for it through State Revolving Funds, and made targeted grants to reduce polluted runoff from cities and agriculture.
Restoring the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary
EPA and other federal agencies have committed to a robust re-engagement in restoring the San Francisco Bay-Delta ecosystem and addressing California’s water needs. In 2009, six federal agencies signed a Memorandum of Understanding and produced a plan to achieve on-the-ground results and complement the state government’s ongoing work.
EPA’s Bay-Delta role includes a wide range of activities to address critical issues throughout this vitally important ecosystem, which stretches from Red Bluff to Bakersfield, and from the Napa Valley to San Francisco to Silicon Valley. Included in these activities is EPA’s competitive grant program to support partnerships that protect and restore San Francisco Bay watersheds.
Through the San Francisco Bay Water Quality Improvement Fund, EPA has supported projects to reduce polluted runoff from urban areas and agriculture; limit specific pollutants to restore water quality; and protect and restore fish and wildlife habitat including riparian corridors, floodplains, wetlands and open waters of the Bay. By early 2010, EPA had selected projects involving nearly 40 partner agencies and nonprofits throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, totaling $14.7 million in federal grants that are leveraging another $11.7 million from other sources. These projects include:
Estuary 2100—Resilient Watersheds for a Changing Climate (San Francisco Estuary Partnership/Association of Bay Area Governments) $11.4 million (Federal: $5 million)
This includes 19 projects in four program areas: wetland and watershed restoration; monitoring changes in the Bay; low impact development and stormwater best management practices; and public outreach.
Cesar Chavez Street Headwaters Pilot Low Impact Development Project (San Francisco Planning Department) $2.2 million (Federal: $1.2 million)
This project will implement a green infrastructure design on a mile-long corridor of Cesar Chavez Street in San Francisco, including installation of stormwater planters, run-off reducing improvements, and permeable concrete. The goal is to reduce runoff to the city’s combined sewer/stormwater system, reducing the amount of partially-treated sewage that flows into the bay when rainstorms overwhelm sewage system capacity.
Clean Watersheds for a Clean Bay (Bay Area Stormwater Management Agencies Association) $6.9 million (Federal: $5 million)
This is a multi-year regional effort to reduce sediment-bound pollutants in the bay and restore water quality by limiting the amount of toxic PCBs and mercury in stormwater that reaches the bay.
Estuary 2100 Phase 2—Building Partnerships for Resilient Watersheds (San Francisco Estuary Partnership/Association of Bay Area Governments) $6 million (Federal: $3.6 million)
This includes seven projects to reduce polluted urban and agricultural runoff, take actions to limit specific pollutants in the North Bay, and protect and restore vital San Francisco Bay fish and wildlife habitats.
Recovery Act Stimulates Green Jobs, Renews Water, Wastewater Systems
America’s aging water infrastructure is in need of major renovation. EPA estimates that it will cost approximately $500 billion over the next 20 years to meet America’s drinking water and wastewater infrastructure needs. On top of that, water agencies face great challenges in maintaining their operations as affected by drought, severe storm events, coastline erosion, saltwater intrusion and reduced water storage capacity.
Congress typically provides State Revolving Fund appropriations each year for EPA to distribute to states, tribes and territories for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act in 2009 significantly increased the funds available.
The Recovery Act requires at least 20% of water funding go to innovative projects that promote energy efficiency, water efficiency or innovative stormwater management. In the Pacific Southwest, all four states have exceeded this requirement. Energy efficiency is vital as approximately one-fifth of California’s entire electricity production, and one-third of its natural gas, is used to transport and treat water.
Innovative Water and Wastewater Projects Funded By the Recovery Act
- Arizona is using $1 million to design water system improvements that incorporate energy and water efficiency, renewable energy use and production, and/or green stormwater infrastructure.
- The Southern Nevada Water Agency is conducting energy audits of the Alfred Merritt Smith and River Mountain water treatment facilities to identify and implement improvements that yield energy and water conservation benefits, while reducing operation and maintenance costs.
- The Eastern Municipal Water District’s Anaerobic Digester will allow the Moreno Valley (Calif.) sewage treatment facility to produce 40% of its energy needs through anaerobic digestion of sludge, producing methane that is burned to generate electricity, and reducing the volume of sludge for disposal.
- Peoria, Ariz., has built a 50-kilowatt solar power facility at a wastewater treatment plant to reduce fossil fuel use and minimize its carbon footprint.
- The Inland Empire Utilities Agency’s Dewatering Facility Expansion Project is reducing greenhouse gas emissions and energy needed for sludge dewatering by 30% while increasing capacity, reducing hauling costs and fuel use, and creating nearly 200 jobs in Southern California.
- In El Cerrito, Calif., the Green Streets Rain Gardens Project is building gardens within sidewalks and street parking areas to filter stormwater runoff, removing sediment, pesticides and other toxics that would otherwise flow into San Francisco Bay. The rain gardens also provide a green buffer to the asphalt and cement in a high-density urban area.
- Oakland’s Rainwater Harvesting Project is providing rain barrels, rebates and guidance for residents to reduce stormwater impacts and re-use rainwater for irrigating gardens.
- Oahu County, Hawaii, is using more than $5 million to replace corroded cast iron drinking water pipes installed 55 to 70 years ago. New PVC pipes save water by having fewer leaks and save energy by being smoother.
Richmond Lab Goes on the Road with New Technology, Out to Sea on the Bold
Since 1994, EPA’s Pacific Southwest Region’s laboratory has focused on analyzing samples brought to its Richmond site, as well as gathering data at remote locations, thanks to new technology and an unusual West Coast voyage of EPA’s ocean research vessel Bold, which normally operates on the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts.
Remote Monitoring and Mobile Lab
At the Leviathan Mine Superfund Site, high in the Sierra Nevada about 200 miles east of San Francisco, water tainted with sulfuric acid emanates from a former mine. Treatment systems on the site do not operate year round, and it’s difficult to monitor water quality in nearby creeks that receive mine site drainage in winter, when deep snow covers the landscape. EPA has set up a satellite telemetry system that monitors the water continuously for pH, conductivity and other parameters, and transmits the data hourly to a database provider that posts it on the Internet. The system works entirely off solar-charged 12-volt battery power.
In 2008, the lab acquired a new cargo van that’s been outfitted as a mobile lab. In a water supply emergency—such as a major earthquake that breaches water mains in an urban area—the van can be rapidly re-configured to perform drinking water microbiological analyses to answer the urgent question of whether it’s safe to drink. The mobile lab has its own 8 KW generator, and can be used to analyze up to 400 samples for pathogens.
Voyage of the Bold
The Regional Lab staff supported ocean survey work aboard the EPA vessel Bold, deployed to the West Coast for the first time. The Bold provided support to conduct critical ocean disposal site monitoring work that is otherwise impossible for EPA’s Pacific Southwest Office.
The Bold’s California voyage began with a side scan sonar survey and sediment sampling at an ocean disposal site off San Diego. Similar survey work was conducted at other California sites. The Regional Lab analyzed the chemical make-up of the sediment samples. Off the Southern California coast, the U.S. Geological Survey also profiled the ocean floor to locate offshore earthquake faults in the vicinity of other EPA-approved ocean disposal sites.
In the Northern California port of Eureka, the EPA science crew collected sediment samples from the Humboldt Open Ocean Disposal Site, where dredged material from Eureka’s harbor is deposited. In addition to sediment chemistry, the sediment samples yielded marine invertebrates that live in the mud and sand—from polychaete worms up to 8 inches long, to tiny amphipods barely visible to the naked eye. These marine organisms were identified and counted to see if their numbers and diversity indicate a healthy bottom habitat
Wastewater Infrastructure: Building a Better East Bay MUD
Our wastewater infrastructure is aging, causing sewage spills and overflows. Sewage and stormwater from six communities and one sanitary sewer district on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay flow through sewer pipes to East Bay Municipal Utility District’s (EBMUD) wastewater treatment plant near the Bay Bridge Toll Plaza. The average age of these sewer pipes is 50 years, with some pipes as old as 130!
Pipe breaks, blockages caused by tree roots or grease, and even too much rainwater seeping into the pipes through joints and cracks can lead to overflows of untreated sewage into streets, homes, creeks and the Bay. Regular maintenance and replacement of pipes is key to preventing spills and overflows. However, communities often find it difficult to continuously assess, repair and replace this unseen asset.
As many aging sewer pipes have cracks, misconnections and other flaws, stormwater and groundwater can infiltrate the sewers when it rains. The increased flow can lead to a tenfold increase in the volume of wastewater reaching the treatment plant. To prevent overflows, EBMUD diverts some of the flow to its three wet weather facilities, which discharge partially-treated wastewater to the Bay on occasion.
Through cooperative enforcement actions, EPA and the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board have tasked EBMUD and its seven communities to reduce infiltration into the sewers through infrastructure renewal and improved maintenance. The goal is to eliminate discharges from the wet weather facilities. Through a strategy of long-term investment by EBMUD and its communities, primarily through user fees, to achieve sustainable infrastructure.
Aging sewer pipes can lead to overflows of untreated sewage into streets, homes and water bodies.
EPA and the Regional Board entered into a binding agreement with EBMUD in January 2009. EBMUD agreed to identify areas with the highest flows, require repair and/or replacement of damaged private sewer pipes that extend from homes and businesses to community sewers, and improve maintenance programs.
In addition, EPA inspected the sewer systems of the seven communities. Based on those findings, EPA took enforcement action against all seven communities in November 2009. As a result, the communities are required to do similar work to reduce infiltration.
EPA actions aimed at infrastructure renewal and maintenance in Southern California over the past few years proves this strategy works. Legal settlements with the cities of Los Angeles and San Diego have greatly reduced sewage spills. Both cities have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in repair and replacement of sewer pipes as well as improved cleaning and maintenance.
Los Angeles reduced sewer overflows from 444 in 2004 to just 159 in 2009. San Diego’s sewer overflows dropped from 365 in 2000 to just 38 in 2009. Over the past five years, Los Angeles has rehabilitated or replaced 54 miles of sewers and completed nine sewer capacity expansion projects. Over the past decade, San Diego has rehabilitated or replaced 240 miles of sewers.
In each case, EPA has worked in concert with local agencies to find lasting solutions that protect public health and the environment in the San Francisco Bay Area and Southern California, to benefit over 30 million people.
The SRF Team: Speeding Recovery Act Funding to Shovel-Ready Projects
Thanks to the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, some EPA staff had greatly increased workloads over the past year. Among them were the regional Water Division’s State Revolving Fund (SRF) Team of Jose Caratini and Juanita Licata in San Francisco, and Susan Polanco in Hawaii.
There were no complaints, however, because the Recovery Act made $610 million available for new loans and grants to cashstrapped states, tribes and local water systems in the Pacific Southwest to build or replace aging drinking water and wastewater facilities—treatment plants and pipelines that ensure our drinking water is safe and our beaches and waterways are healthy for recreation, fish and wildlife.
After the Recovery Act passed in February 2009, the Drinking Water Program in California alone received applications for more than 2,100 projects that would have cost a combined total of $6 billion. The state’s fiscal crisis had dried up bond money normally used for many of these projects. In the end, EPA provided $159 million for drinking water projects and more than $269 million for wastewater projects in California.
The new money funded 252 long-planned, shovel-ready projects in the Pacific Southwest. Most of the money was disbursed through the State Revolving Funds to local governments, who repay loans after their new facilities are built. Then the money can be loaned again, and repaid again, and it keeps revolving. This year, every federal dollar was matched by about $2 in state and local funds.
Jose, Juanita and Susan reviewed applications, worked with the states to develop use plans, and processed approved funding. They also oversaw the projects to ensure funds are spent according to Recovery Act rules. For example, American-made iron and steel must be used, and 20% of the funds must go to “Green Infrastructure” projects, such as installation of water meters on unmetered properties to prevent water waste, installation of low-friction pipes and efficient pumps to save energy, and use of solar power to run treatment plants.
Nevada’s SRF had financed 54 drinking water and wastewater projects in 1999-2008. In 2009 alone, the Recovery Act funded 29 more Nevada projects.
In just one year, the SRF Team approved funds for 146 wastewater projects and 106 drinking water projects in California, Arizona, Hawaii and Nevada. State and local agencies put projects out for bid and awarded contracts. Due to tight deadlines mandated by Recovery Act and state rules, work that usually took months was done in just a few weeks. By February 17, 2010, a year after the Act became law, most of the projects were under construction.
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