Category 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

LETTER SERIES: Steve Young – On the Proposed Recycled Water Project

[Editor: Benicians are expressing themselves in letters to the editor of our local print newspaper, the Benicia Herald. But the Herald doesn’t publish letters in its online editions – and many Benician’s don’t subscribe. We are posting certain letters here for wider distribution. – RS]

On the Recycled Water Project

By Steve Young
October 28, 2016
Steve Young for Benicia City Council

I would like to thank Mr. Gartrell for his letter and calling attention to this proposal.

Currently, Valero pays approximately $1 million per year for roughly half of the water used in the City. This is raw, untreated water that is used in their cooling towers and refinery process. The rest of the City customers pay around $6 million for the other half of the treated, potable water. Clearly the treated water is of greater value than untreated water, but one can wonder if it is 6 times more valuable?

The proposed wastewater conversion project, which Valero has described as “drought insurance”, is estimated to cost approximately $25 million. This could presumably be financed by a loan from the State, where the payments (according to City staff) would be approximately $1.5 million per year. Both the City and Valero agree that the technology is achievable, and the main question remaining is who should pay the premiums for this drought insurance (i.e. loan payments).

Since the conversion project would result in wastewater being treated by the City to Valero’s specifications, and would be pumped in new lines from the treatment plant directly to Valero for their exclusive use, it is not unreasonable (or illegal) to expect them to pay the costs of that project. I believe that this is in compliance with Prop. 218.

Clearly, there would be benefits to the City from this project as well, since it would free up more water for the community to accommodate both current residents and any future growth the City may choose to embark upon. And the development of the technology of wastewater conversion could ultimately benefit the City if extended to irrigation purposes for parks, school fields and other public uses-although to do so would require some expensive re-plumbing to direct that reclaimed water for those purposes.
The cost of those uses, of course, would be public costs.

The negotiation of the terms of this project would have to be approved by the new City Council and Valero’s corporate offices in San Antonio, TX.

I remain optimistic that this project could be significant in terms of serving the long term water needs of both Valero and the City.

EAST BAY TIMES: Benicia: Valero to pay $157,800 penalty over toxic chemicals

Repost from the East Bay Times

Benicia: Valero to pay $157,800 penalty over toxic chemicals

By Denis Cuff, October 5, 2016, 5:53 pm
The Valero refinery is photographed in Benicia, Calif., on Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)
The Valero refinery is photographed in Benicia, Calif., on Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)

BENICIA – The Valero oil refinery has agreed to pay $157,800 in federal penalties for improper management and storage of toxic chemicals and hazardous waste, the federal Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday.

The violations included illegal disposal of benzene, a carcinogen, into an unlined storm water retention pond and not alerting the public about all of its toxic chemical releases, EPA officials reported.

In addition to paying the penalties, Valero will modify its piping operations by June 2017 to prevent an estimated 5,000 pounds of benzene from being released into the atmosphere over the next 10 years, officials said.

Evidence of the violations were detected during an EPA inspection of the Benicia refinery in May 2014 to assess compliance with the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act.

Additional violations included the company’s failure to determine if solid waste generated at the refinery was hazardous; the failure to maintain and operate to minimize risks of a toxic release; and failure to maintain complete and accurate records, the EPA said.

MOSIER OR: High levels of benzene in groundwater after oil train crash

Repost from Water Online
[Editor: Significant quote: “The concentration that we found (of benzene) was 1,800 parts per billion, which is approximately ten times higher than a screening level for what would concern us for animals living in a wetland.”  – RS]

Oil Train Crash Left Benzene Contamination In Groundwater

By Sara Jerome, August 15, 2016
train reg new.jpg
Image credit: “union pacific,” matthew fern © 2011, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license,

A town in Oregon is still reeling from a train derailment two months ago, discovering the crash leaked oil into the groundwater supply.

A Union Pacific oil train derailed in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge in June, raising concerns about nearby water service and knocking the wastewater system completely out of function in the town of Mosier. In the aftermath of the initial crisis, officials are facing down water contamination, seeking treatment remedies for lingering pollution.

They found “elevated concentrations of benzene and other volatile organic compounds in groundwater near the derailment site,” OPB reported.

“The concentration that we found (of benzene) was 1,800 parts per billion, which is approximately ten times higher than a screening level for what would concern us for animals living in a wetland,” Bob Schwarz of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality told OPB.

State environmental authorities plan “to install a treatment system that injects air into the underground water. They say the oxygen will stimulate the existing microbes that live in the water to break down the oil,” KATU reported.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality installed “four monitoring wells to observe ground water quality after the wreck. Schwartz said one of them had significant oil contamination from the train derailment,” the report said.

Schwartz provided an update to KATU News.

“The numbers we’re concerned about are based on the potential of long-term impact … if animals were exposed over many years. In this case, we don’t expect it to be significant because we plan to get out there and remove the contamination within weeks or months,” Schwartz said. “I think this is something we will be able to clean up fairly quickly so I don’t think it will be a significant problem.”

One positive sign amid the wreckage: Drinking water wells for this town remain unaffected, the report said. They were uphill from the crash site.

Mosier lost access to its sewer system and wastewater treatment plant as a result of the incident, which saw 16 of the train’s 96 tank cars go off the rails, according to the Associated Press.