Tag Archives: Wastewater

One Bay Area city may surrender land to the rising sea

A $900 million plan outlines how Hayward is preparing its sewage plants, natural gas power plant and 1,899 acres of marshes and tidelands for  a rising San Francisco Bay.

San Francisco Chronicle, by John King, July 2, 2021
LINKS TO THE SERIES: Mission Creek, Foster City, Hayward

By 2100, we may need to let rising waters cover portions of today’s shoreline, once and for all.

“You’ve got to be forward-thinking,” said Al Mendall, who served on the Hayward City Council from 2012 until December. “As a layperson, it seems obvious to me that we’re going to have to consider some form of retreat at some point. Not just in Hayward, but all around the Bay.”

Before San Francisco Bay’s shoreline was recognized as an irreplaceable resource, it was where cities put garbage dumps, highways and industrial zones. Out of sight, out of mind.

That’s why the west edge of Hayward north of Highway 92 includes two sewage plants and the natural gas power plant that opened in 2013. The white toll booths of the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge shimmer in the haze of automobile exhaust. Two stumpy hillocks conceal long-closed dumps.

But there also are 1,800 acres of protected marshes and tidelands, along with the Hayward Shoreline Interpretive Center built in 1986. Even as new warehouses and research parks are built next to such preserves, populations of species like the snowy plover and salt water harvest mouse continue to increase.

A group of pelicans rest in a channel near the Hayward Shoreline Interpretive Center last month.

Three pelicans rest in a channel near the Hayward Shoreline Interpretive Center last month. Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle

It’s a juxtaposition that feels oddly timeless, but the placid scene can be deceptive. Already, several times each year, the combination of high tides and strong winds send sheets of water fanning across the trail from the interpretive center. Factor in the likelihood of significant sea level rise and the rare could become commonplace.

Sea level rise is fueled by higher global temperatures that trigger two forces: Warmer water expands oceans while the increased temperatures hasten the melting of glaciers on Antarctica and Greenland and add yet more water to the oceans.

Variations of this forecast — inconvenience followed by upheaval — are found all along the edges of San Francisco Bay. The difference is that Hayward worked out a detailed plan for what might lie ahead.

In February, Hayward’s City Council approved a set of strategies on how to adapt the shoreline zone to what climate change might bring between now and 2070. In some areas, the city would restore marshes or relocate trails. In others, new levees would shield industrial functions that cannot be moved, like the wastewater treatment facility.

John Blanchard/The Chronicle | GIS data from ART Bay Shoreline Flood Explorer, Hayward Area Shoreline Planning Agency, Scape and Hayward Regional Shoreline Adaptation Master Plan

The effort was led by Scape, a New York landscape architecture firm that has been active in sea-level-rise planning since Hurricane Sandy laid waste to coastal New York and New Jersey in 2012.

Unlike some bay settings — such as San Francisco’s heavily developed Mission Creek or Foster City, where a levee already protects homes — Hayward’s shoreline area offers room to maneuver. The area studied by Scape extends 3¼ miles from Highway 92 past the city’s northern border, while extending inland as much as 2 miles, past the power plant and research buildings to modest older homes.

Bicyclists are in the foreground riding along the Hayward Regional Shoreline. In the background the San Francisco skyline is visible amid fog and clouds.
San Francisco rises in the distance as cyclists ride through the Hayward Regional Shoreline last month. Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle

Scape’s team of designers and engineers was selected in 2018 by the Hayward Area Shoreline Planning Agency, which includes representatives from the city, the East Bay Regional Park District and the Hayward Area Recreation and Park District.

The scale of the area captured the firm’s notice. So did the scale of Hayward’s ambitions.

“Plenty of cities and agencies are beginning to study risks. Hayward is one of the few places taking the next step and trying to offer solutions,” said Gena Wirth, who led the Scape team.

The 244-page plan lays out steps that can be taken in coming decades to stay ahead of the changes that would accompany daily tides 4 feet above current levels. Another 3.3 feet were added to account for the waves that could be triggered by a once-in-a-century storm.

“You want to look for how you can restore natural systems in a way that magnifies the overall benefits,” Werth said. “It’s all about establishing a vision and then breaking it down into bite-size components.”

None of this is easy — or cheap.

The combined price tag for everything in the plan tops $900 million, and there is no funding yet. But the recommendations are split into 26 projects of varying size — the idea being that pilot programs and smaller initiatives can kick off within the next few years, building momentum for larger projects in later decades.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us, definitely,” said Erik Pearson, the environmental services manager for Hayward’s Public Works department. “This is something we can use as a guide.”

The approach is applauded by scientists and officials wrestling with the challenge of a future in which the old danger — developers wanting to fill in the bay — is replaced by the need to keep the bay from reclaiming the low-lying lands at its edge.

“The level of sophistication and thoughtfulness is rare,” said Jessica Fain, the head planner of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, a state agency created in 1967 to watch over the health of the bay. “There’s a range of solutions spelled out, and also a real dedication to pursuing them.”

This includes what potentially is the most controversial solution of all.

After it describes various natural methods to enhance and protect the shoreline, the plan devotes two pages to “managed retreat.” Or as Scape puts it, “a management strategy for retreating from vulnerable coastal areas” and “adapting to sea level rise over time.”

In one design scenario, Scape went so far as to study moving the Interpretive Center from the south end of the area, near Highway 92, to the top of one the hillocks that hide a former dump. Besides protecting the center from flooding, this option “maintains visibility of the structure and offers expansive views of the Bay.”

Al Mendall, who served on Hayward’s City Council from 2012 until last year, has been an advocate for Hayward’s planning efforts along its shoreline. Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle

The final plan doesn’t include this move. But it emphasizes that if sea level rise matches current projections, the relocation of buildings and services “would likely be needed … long-term.”

That topic rarely is discussed, except in coastal areas that routinely flood or suffer dangerous levels of erosion. But Hayward officials inserted it deliberately.

“It’s important to mention that the concept exists” within the larger discussion, Pearson said. “At 4 feet, it doesn’t make sense to look at retreat. But at some point after that, it may be the best approach.”

Experts familiar with bay’s potential reach welcome the willingness of Hayward and the design team to acknowledge this.

“We need to stop thinking, ‘This is going to be here forever,’” said Letitia Grenier. She leads the resilient landscapes program at the San Francisco Estuary Institute, which advised Scape on the Hayward shoreline’s environment. “That’s not the way the world works. We need to learn to live with that.”

Will Travis, who was the executive director of the bay commission when it released its first sea level projections in 2007, has a similar view.

“The hard decisions will be what not to protect,” he said. “How you prioritize where to put your (limited) resources.”

The plan went to Hayward’s City Council on Feb. 16. It passed on a 5-0 vote.

Mendall, the former council member, was excited to see the council act in unison — and with no public opposition.

“We wanted something doable, not pie-in-the-sky,” he said. “It’s a tool for the next generation to preserve and protect the shoreline.”

An aerial view of the Hayward Regional Shoreline. In addition to restored marshes, it includes wastewater storage ponds and a field of solar panels. Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle



EDITING – Mark Lundgren

VISUALS – John Blanchard, Carlos Avila Gonzalez,
Guy Wathen, Alex K. Fong, Drawings animated in Mental Canvas


GIS DATA – BCDC (2017). Adapting To Rising Tides Bay Area Sea Level Rise Analysis & Mapping Project: SF Bay [spatial data file]. SF Bay Conservation and Development Commission

Mosier groundwater contaminated after derailment spill

Repost from the Hood River News

Mosier groundwater contaminated after derailment spill

By Patrick Mulvihill, July 22, 2016
TREATMENT PLANT in Mosier came back online in mid-June. The city had been trucking sewage to Hood River for treatment while their system was shut down following the train wreck.
TREATMENT PLANT in Mosier came back online in mid-June. The city had been trucking sewage to Hood River for treatment while their system was shut down following the train wreck. Photo by Patrick Mulvihill

Regulators have found contaminated groundwater at the site of the June 3 fiery oil train derailment in Mosier.

There’s no current threat to drinking water or beach users, according to Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), but concerns have surfaced for wildlife health in the Rock Creek wetland near the Columbia River.

“It really isn’t a significant issue of harming human health; however, there is a wetland (nearby) and we’re mainly concerned for animals (living there),” said Bob Schwarz, DEQ project manager.

DEQ staff found high levels of benzene and other volatile organic compounds in one of four test wells crews installed north of the Union Pacific train tracks in Mosier shortly after the train wreck.

Schwarz described the contaminant levels discovered at the east-most site as roughly 10 times higher than the safe amount for animal populations — 1,800 parts of benzene per billion, compared to the ecological risk level of 130 parts.

The wetland ecosystem includes various amphibians and insects, he said.

DEQ has ruled the local drinking water safe because Mosier’s municipal water supply is located about a mile away from the spill area, uphill.

Beach access at Mosier — a popular watersports access spot — has been deemed safe. Booms laid out on the river following the derailment (to catch a small sheen of oil) have since been removed.

Mosier’s wastewater system is also back in action. While heavy green sewage tanks and pump trucks were a common sight during early June, the town no longer trucks sewage to Hood River for treatment.

In the derailment, 16 cars of a 96-car Union Pacific train bearing Bakken crude oil left the tracks in what U.P. ruled an accident due to faulty rail bolts. At least three cars caught fire. Crews extinguished the blaze by early morning the next day.

About 47,000 gallons of oil escaped from four rail cars.

During the wreck, one of the railcars tore off the lid of a sanitary sewer manhole, allowing roughly 13,000 gallons of oil to flow into the nearby Mosier wastewater treatment plant. That system was shut down as crews worked to pump out oil and clean the piping network.

As a temporary fix, workers trucked sewage from Mosier to Hood River for treatment at the municipal plant on Riverside Drive. By June 16, the plant was restored, and shortly after Mosier’s system was fully functional.

A small sheen of oil leaked into the Columbia River through the wastewater system at some point following the wreck, DEQ reported.

Crews cast out absorbing booms into the river to contain the sheen. The exact amount is “unknown but low in volume,” according to a DEQ fact sheet, but it quickly dissipated.

Surface water samples in the river didn’t show any significant contamination from the spill, Schwarz said. He expects the booms will be replaced in September, before autumn rains, in case new rain flushes any oil from the ground into the river.

Agencies reported that the rest of the oil was burned off or absorbed into the soil. Excavation workers disposed of about 29,600 tons of earth that had been contaminated with petroleum.

Oil remaining in the derailed cars was transferred by truck to The Dalles, then hauled by rail to Tacoma, Wash., its original destination. The emptied railcars were taken by truck to Portland for salvage.

Following the derailment, DEQ oversaw the installation of six wells near the train tracks — two extraction wells and four monitoring wells. At the fourth monitoring site, staff found high petroleum levels and other compounds.

Now, DEQ is working with the railroad’s consultant to design an underground system that will treat the contamination, Schwarz said.

The “biosparge” system will include vertical pipes where air will be injected into the ground water. That oxygen will spur growth of naturally occurring microbes that will break down the oil.

“We are still waiting for groundwater flow direction information from CH2M, the consultant for Union Pacific Railroad,” Schwarz said in a July 6 memo.

Local conservation group Columbia Riverkeeper raised concerns about U.P.’s role in the high pollutant levels and called for a third party to steer the cleanup.

“It’s very concerning that we have such high levels of toxic pollutants so close to the river,” Riverkeeper staff attorney Lauren Goldberg said.

She asserted that the public needs to hold state officials accountable so that “U.P. is not at the wheel of this cleanup.”

Schwarz expects a small drill rig and a half dozen or so workers will be on scene in Mosier to implement the treatment system.

For more information, go to deq.state.or.us/lq/ecsi/ecsi.htm .

California shuts dozens of oil wells to stop wastewater injection

Repost from the San Francisco Chronicle

State shuts 33 wells injecting oil wastewater into aquifers

By David R. Baker, October 16, 2015
A person walks past pump jacks operating at the Kern River Oil Field in Bakersfield, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File) Photo: Jae C. Hong, Associated Press
A person walks past pump jacks operating at the Kern River Oil Field in Bakersfield, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

California regulators on Thursday closed 33 oil company wells that had injected wastewater into potentially drinkable aquifers protected by federal law.

The new closures bring to 56 the number of oil-field wastewater injection wells shut down by the state after officials realized they were pumping oil-tainted water into aquifers that potentially could be used for drinking or irrigation.

All but two of the latest closures are in Kern County, in California’s drought-stricken Central Valley. One lies in Ventura County, another in northern Los Angeles County. Officials with California’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources spent Friday verifying that they had, in fact, closed. Of the 33, only 21 had been actively injecting wastewater before Thursday.

“This is part of our ongoing effort to ensure that California’s groundwater resources are protected as oil and gas production take place,” said Steven Bohlen, the division’s supervisor.

California’s oil fields contain large amounts of salty water that comes to the surface mixed with the oil. It must be separated from the petroleum and disposed of, often by injecting it back underground. Much of the water is pumped back into the same geologic formation it came from. But enough left-over water remains that companies must find other places to put it.

Fears of contamination

The division, part of California’s Department of Conservation, for years issued oil companies permits to inject their left-over water into aquifers that were supposed to be off-limits, protected by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

The problem, detailed in a Chronicle investigation earlier this year, raised fears of water contamination in a state struggling through a historic, four-year drought.

So far, however, no drinking water supplies have been found to be tainted by the injections.

Still, some environmentalists expressed outrage that so few wells had been closed.

The division has identified 178 wells that were injecting into legally protected aquifers with relatively high water quality, defined as those with a maximum of 3,000 parts per million of total dissolved solids. More than 2,000 other wells inject into aquifers that would be harder to use for drinking water, either because they are too salty or because they also contain oil.

“This is too little, too late to protect our water,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the Climate Law Institute at the Center for Biological Diversity. “With each passing day the oil industry is polluting more and more of our precious water.”

The division reported Friday, however, that not all 178 wells required closure. Some had already been shut down by their operators, while others had been converted into wells for extracting oil — not dumping wastewater.

An oil industry trade group noted that all of the wells closed Thursday had received state permits, even if the state now acknowledges that those permits should never have been issued.

“Both regulators and producers are committed to protecting underground water supplies, and today’s announcement reinforces the seriousness of that commitment,” said Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association.

Safeguarding water supplies

“California’s oil and natural gas producers are committed to operating their wells in a manner that continues to safeguard public water supplies,” she said.

Revelations that the division allowed injections into relatively fresh groundwater supplies touched off a political firestorm, triggered lawsuits, and led Bohlen to launch a reorganization of his staff.

More well closures will likely follow. Under regulations adopted this year, wells injecting into aquifers with water quality between 3,000 and 10,000 total dissolved solids must cease injections by Feb. 15, 2017, unless granted an exemption from the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

CCST Report: Fracking pollution poses major risks

[Editor:  Contrasting reports on a recent California Council on Science and Technology report.  – RS]

Repost from The Center for Biological Diversity

New Study: Fracking Pollution Poses Major Threat to California’s Air, Water

Scientists’ Warnings Come Too Late to Shape State’s Weak Fracking Regulations

July 15, 2015

SACRAMENTO, Calif.— A study released today by the California Council on Science and Technology warns that fracking and other oil extraction techniques emit dangerous air pollution and threaten to contaminate California’s drinking water supplies. Millions of Californians live near active oil and gas wells, which exposes them to the air pollutants indentified in the report.

The troubling findings come a week after Gov. Jerry Brown’s oil officials finalized new fracking regulations that do little to address such public health and water pollution risks.

“This disturbing study exposes fatal flaws in Gov. Brown’s weak fracking rules,” said Hollin Kretzmann of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Oil companies are fouling the air we breathe and using toxic chemicals that endanger our dwindling drinking water. The millions of people near these polluting wells need an immediate halt to fracking and other dangerous oil company practices.”

Last week the state’s Department of Conservation began implementing new fracking regulations and finalized an assessment of fracking’s health and environmental risks, even though the science council had not finished evaluating fracking’s dangers. The science council is an independent, nonprofit organization that advises California officials on policy issues.

Today’s report concludes that fracking in California happens at unusually shallow depths, dangerously close to underground drinking water supplies, with unusually high chemical concentrations. That poses a serious threat to aquifers during the worst drought in California history.

Air pollution is also a major concern. In the Los Angeles area, the report identifies 1.7 million people — and hundreds of daycare facilities, schools and retirement homes — within one mile of an active oil or gas well. Atmospheric concentrations of pollutants near these oil production sites “can present risks to human health,” the study says.

But Gov. Brown’s new fracking regulations do not address deadly air pollutants like particulate matter and air toxic chemicals. A recent Center analysis found that oil companies engaged in extreme oil production methods have used millions of pounds of air toxics in the Los Angeles Basin.

Among the science council’s other disturbing findings:

  • California places no limits on how close oil and gas wells can be to homes, schools or daycare facilities, which can expose people to dangerous air pollution from fracking and other oil extraction procedures.
  • Serious concerns are raised over the oil industry’s disposal of fracking waste fluid and produced water into open pits and the use of oil waste fluid to irrigate crops.
  • The health and water pollution impacts of fracking chemicals that could be present in oil waste that’s dumped into open pits “would be extremely difficult to predict, because there are so many possible chemicals, and the environmental profiles of many of them are unmeasured.”
  • Wildlife habitat can be fragmented or lost because of fracking and other oil development – and fracking-related oil development in California “coincides with ecologically sensitive areas” in Kern and Ventura Counties.
  • Confirmation that many oil industry wastewater injection wells are close to active faults — a practice has triggered earthquakes in other states. The science council identified more than 1,000 active injection wells within 1.5 miles of a mapped active fault — and more than 150 are within 656 feet.

“These troubling findings send a clear message to Gov. Brown that it’s time to ban fracking and rein in our state’s out-of-control oil industry,” Kretzmann said. “California should follow the example set by New York, which wisely banned fracking after health experts there concluded this toxic technique was just too dangerous.”

Contact: Clare Lakewood, (510) 844-7121, clakewood@biologicaldiversity.org
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 900,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Repost from Public News Service

Report: Fracking Risk to CA is Aquifer Contamination, Not Quakes

By Suzanne Potter, July 10, 2015
PHOTO: A hydraulic fracturing well in Kern County. The safety of fracking is the subject of a new report. Photo credit: California Council on Science and Technology.
PHOTO: A hydraulic fracturing well in Kern County. The safety of fracking is the subject of a new report. Photo credit: California Council on Science and Technology.

SACRAMENTO, Calif – A new report says hydraulic fracturing can contaminate groundwater when the excess water is not properly disposed of, but is not linked to earthquakes in California.

In January, a study by the Seismological Society of America linked a series of earthquakes in Ohio to fracking, and there have been similar claims in other states as well.

The new study released Thursday comes from the California Council on Science and Technology and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Jane Long, the lead scientific researcher, says hydraulic fracturing poses some safety concerns but they’re manageable.

“A lot of things people were concerned about are things that are not as big a problem as they think they are,” says Long. “And some of the practices are things that need to change and need more attention.”

The report says the oil companies should phase out percolation ponds used to dispose of excess water because toxic fracking chemicals can get into the aquifer. And it recommends companies put aside about a third of the chemicals currently in use because there’s not enough data about them.

The Center for Biological Diversity points to the finding that oil operations can pollute the air in their immediate vicinity. Long is optimistic that the report will spur further reforms.

“Some of them are going to be recommendations that will be very easy to act on right away and I think they will be acted on and some of them are going to require some process,” she says.

The report was required by the 2013 passage of State Senate Bill 4, which established new safety measures for fracking, rules that went into effect on July 1.