The Public Eye

Sacramento Regional Sanitation District seeks next rate hike for wastewater plant upgrade project

Workers finish installing new 22,000-gallon chlorine storage tanks on Friday, Jan. 6, 2017, in Elk Grove, CA. Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District’s 912-acre EchoWater Project is three years into a massive wastewater treatment upgrade. Construction is expected to exceed $1.5 billion.
Workers finish installing new 22,000-gallon chlorine storage tanks on Friday, Jan. 6, 2017, in Elk Grove, CA. Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District’s 912-acre EchoWater Project is three years into a massive wastewater treatment upgrade. Construction is expected to exceed $1.5 billion. rpench@sacbee.com

Operators of a massive public works upgrade to the Sacramento region’s wastewater treatment plant are seeking a $4 monthly rate increase as of mid-2021 to finance continuing work at the project near Interstate 5 and Elk Grove.

The increase would raise another $100 million for planning, design and construction. Over the next five to seven years, workers will complete the most ambitious upgrade to the plant since it began service in 1982. The project is on track to cost $1.75 billion, well within the $1.5 billion to $2.1 billion projected, officials say.

In all, the 912-acre site involves 17 individual projects that, combined, make up the Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District’s EchoWater Project. Six are complete and represent $50 million in construction costs, said Vick Kyotani, Regional San’s deputy director of operations.

Four additional projects, with combined construction costs of $600 million, are underway. And the balance are in the planning and design phases – work that will be partially supported by the $100 million rate hike proposal. EchoWater completion is expected in 2023.

The nearly decadelong project has had its challenging stretches. Regional San began the work after state water authorities declared that too many pollutants were being discharged into the Sacramento River, threatening public health and harming aquatic life in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

 

The district challenged the state’s finding in a 2011 lawsuit but later settled and moved ahead on the massive upgrade. In the 2013 settlement, the district accepted a state requirement that it remove ammonia in the treatment process by 2021. In 2014, Regional San also accepted state requirements to filter for pathogens giardia and cryptosporidium, parasites that can affect digestive systems.

Regional San already provides conveyance and treatment of 127 million gallons of wastewater per day on behalf of an estimated 1.4 million people in Sacramento County, West Sacramento, Courtland and Walnut Grove.

Continuing the existing operation while rebuilding the heart of the plant adds complexity to the operation, said Christoph Dobson, Regional San’s director of policy and planning.

“People have described it as driving the car down the road and building the engine while they’re driving,” Dobson said. But, he added, “It’s on budget and on schedule.”

Nearly seven years ago, project managers had projected monthly bills ultimately would need to rise above $60 a month to complete the project. But over time, a combination of factors helped reduce those projections.

The district created an on-site concrete plant to save money on the 700,000 tons of concrete needed for the work. The district was able to borrow money from the state’s Clean Water Revolving Fund at low rates for an estimated savings of more than $500 million.

If approved, the latest rate proposal would raise bills in increments over five years from the current $35 a month to $39 a month in July 2021. The district has more than 400,000 mainly residential and commercial ratepayers.

Dobson said the latest rate proposal is smaller than anticipated and by 2021 will put the district “very close to the end of the increases.”

Eligible low-income ratepayers may qualify for rebates on a portion of their bills either by applying online or by calling 916-875-5500.

Informational meetings are scheduled in February for ratepayers in Citrus Heights, Folsom and Sacramento. For more information, call 916-876-7218.

The Regional San Board of Directors’ rate hearing is set for 9:30 a.m. March 8 in the board chambers, Sacramento County Administration Center, 700 H St., Sacramento.

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