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Where best to put San Diego sewage

Pipe it out of town

“Six hours from flush to plant.” - Image by Robert Burroughs
“Six hours from flush to plant.”

Dick King knows what time everyone in San Diego wakes up in the morning. Approximately, at least. King is the city’s director of water and sewer utilities, and he knows that people tend to use their bathrooms most heavily after a night’s sleep, which in turn creates a peak flow of sewage through the city’s massive treatment plant on Point Loma at about noon. “Six hours from flush to plant,” he says cheerily. “If our flow at Point Loma peaks after one in the afternoon, I know you all got up late.”

Dick King: “Fecal matter doesn’t pollute the ocean.”

King is a silver-haired man of fifty-five. He is soft-spoken, wears gold-rimmed glasses, and overall gives off an impression of efficiency. On his wrist is a watch-sized digital calculator that provides him with the date and time as well as allowing him to add, subtract, multiply, and divide. He has a wry sense of humor that hasn’t deserted him in the seven years he has overseen the operation of San Diego’s sewage system. “Everything about the system is public,” he commented recently, “including the sewage.”

Carlsbad's Anthony Scotnicki: "Everyone wants to move here, but where are they going to put their crap?"

King’s humor will serve him well if he plans to remain in his job. since sewage, despite its smelly reputation, is beginning to play an increasingly important role in the area’s growth. In San Diego, the city council is now debating who should pay for improvements to the Point Loma treatment plant — current users or future ones.

In La Costa, a moratorium on sewer hookups has been challenged by new residents who demand their right to build homes there. And looming in the background is the issue of wastewater reclamation, which may ultimately be the county’s only hope for a cheap, plentiful water supply. Stated in its simplest terms, the county’s growth is fundamentally linked to its ability to treat and dispose of sewage.

Control room, where the levels and pressures of all the plant’s pipes and tanks are monitored on a huge bank of gauges.

Hanging on a wall in the administration building of the Point Loma treatment plant there is a map of the greater San Diego area sewer system. The map shows a rootlike system of red lines, each representing a sewer pipe, that increase in size as they near the Point Loma plant. The smallest and most distant lines are in areas like Del Mar, Spring Valley, and National City, where new housing developments planned a few years ago are just now being completed; in actuality the system begins in each individual house, with a single, six-inch-diameter glossy white plastic pipe that funnels the discharges from sinks, toilets, washing machines, and bathtubs into the sewer main buried some ten feet underground. (This plastic pipe is known as a sewer hookup.)

Point Loma treatment plant

The sewer mains feed into larger pipes, known as collectors, that lead in turn to the metropolitan sewer system’s “interceptors” — huge cement pipes a full eight feet in diameter. From the beginning of the system to its end, the pipes lie at ever-increasing depths underground, in order to take advantage of gravity as the main source of flow. Eventually, fifty feet below East Harbor Drive, the entire area’s sewage is funneled into a single pipe more than ten feet across, and, with the aid of four 2250-horsepower pumps; is pushed over the ridge to the Point Loma treatment plant.

In September of last year members of San Diego’s news media were invited to inspect this pipe, which the water and sewer utilities department had temporarily sealed off in order to complete repairs on another line nearby. The visit took place at two in the morning, and was attended by City Manager Ray Blair, Councilman Bill Lowery, and Dick King. From the media, only a reporter from the San Diego Union and a film team from Channel 10 showed up.The TV station’s resulting video tape shows humans walking with ease through the gargantuan, gleaming pipe, smiling bravely in the face of what must have been a powerful stench (though the sewage flow had been stopped, a strong odor remained — a water and sewer utilities department employee had descended into the pipe fust to test the atmosphere for its ability to support life).

Don Jones, another department employee who participated in the visit, remembers that the temperature in the pipe, even at that early-morning hour, was “at least eighty or eighty-five, and the humidity must have been close to a hundred percent. ” In the end, the visit had little significance other than to show San Diegans that their sewage system is alive and well despite the enormous amount of corrosive material that flows through it daily.

Sewage systems were not always so large or sophisticated, of course. The Romans were one of the first cultures to construct sewer systems, but their stone canals were used mainly for drainage and irrigation. It wasn't until the 1800s that the modern concept of citywide sewage disposal systems began to take hold. In London, outbreaks of cholera and typhoid were traced to overflowing cesspools, and by 1847 it was compulsory there for bathrooms to drain directly into pipes which carried the raw sewage to nearby rivers.

The first public sewers in San Diego were built south of Broadway in 1885. Over the next fifty-eight years the city’s raw sewage was discharged into the bay and the Pacific Ocean through some twenty separate outfalls. But the health hazards of raw sewage were well known, and in 1943 the city finally put a sewage treatment plant into operation on East Harbor Drive. The area’s population continued to mushroom, however, and in 1961 work began on a new $52 million facility on the seaward side of Point Loma, near the old lighthouse. That plant, expanded somewhat since its activation on August 15, 1963, currently handles nearly ninety percent of the county’s treated sewage.

What exactly is sewage treatment? “I’ve given it a lot of thought,” says Dick King, “and what it boils down to, what it’s all about, is this: taking stuff out of the sewage, and then handling what you take out.” The “stuff” taken out of San Diego’s sewage at the Point Loma plant is typical of that of almost any American city: rocks, sand, prophylactics, plastic tampon inserters, grease balls, and a lot of organic material that settles out of solution and is known in the trade as sludge. At the Point Loma facility, most of this material is removed from the sewage through a series of settling basins, and the remaining fluid — containing “suspended solids,” pesticides, heavy metals such as lead and mercury, and very likely typhus, cholera, and dysentery bacteria — is pumped through a two-mile-long pipe that splits into a “Y” at its end. There, on a sandy stretch of ocean floor 220 feet below the surface, the liquid waste of America’s Finest City is released into the ocean.

The treatment that sewage undergoes at the Point Loma plant is known as primary treatment. Secondary treatment involves killing the bacteria and viruses and removing an even greater percentage of the metals and “suspended solids.” According to the Environmental Protection Agency, all cities in the United States were supposed to have secondary treatment plants by 1977. But San Diego, as a city with an ocean outfall, may qualify for a waiver from the EPA’s regulations. The reasoning behind this is that organisms living in the ocean kill the bacteria and viruses in sewage anyway, so as long as the deposit of potentially toxic materials is not too high, the ocean itself functions as a kind of secondary treatment plant.

“Fecal matter doesn’t pollute the ocean,” King declares flatly. “A whale has the fecal load of 3000 humans, so if it did pollute the ocean, every time a herd of a hundred whales passed by — say, the equivalent of 300,000 people — we’d be in trouble.

“The fact is that the main problems are the toxicity levels of heavy metals, and pesticides and herbicides. No method of treatment will deal with the latter, but in San Diego we’re very fortunate — we have virtually no pesticides or herbicides in our sewage. These materials occur mostly as a result of agricultural usage, and there just isn’t much agriculture locally that discharges into the sewage system.

“There are also no heavy metals of toxic levels in our local sewage. Again, this isn’t due to any brilliance on my part — we’re just lucky. There’s virtually no industry here.” (Nationwide, high levels of potentially toxic metals in sewage are traceable mainly to industrial activity. In San Diego, industry accounts for only five percent of the total sewage flow.)

A study conducted in 1978 by the Coastal Water Research Project tends to agree with King’s assessment: water and bottom samples taken from the area near the outfall showed no toxic levels of heavy metals or pesticides. But the same study also noted that “municipal waste-water discharges are the principal source of most pollutants entering Southern California waters as a result of human activity,” and went on to point out that the Point Loma outfall, like others in Orange County and Los Angeles, has affected the marine environment in several ways. Though a few species of plants and fish flourish in the vicinity of the outfall, the number of different species has been markedly reduced; and heavy metals and pesticides are clearly building up, even if not yet to toxic levels (thousands of pounds of heavy metals are discharged through the Point Loma outfall each year, along with several hundred pounds of pesticides). As the San Diego area continues to grow, the levels of these materials in local sewage could increase to the point that the city would be obligated to put in expensive equipment to remove them prior to pumping its wastewater into the ocean.

A more immediate concern, however, is overloading at the Point Loma plant that has brought about pollution violations and resulting complaints by several federal and state agencies, including the Regional Water Quality Control Board. The board is “basically a regulatory agency for liquid waste discharges.” according to one of its senior engineers. Art Coe. Coe, a stocky, dark-haired man, who, at thirty-eight, might pass for John Belushi’s older brother, said in an interview recently that the Point Loma plant has violated the board’s regulations on a number of occasions. Most significant among these violations was the discharge of “floatable solids” through the ocean outfall. “These solids were coming to the surface over the discharge area,” Coe explained, “and onshore winds and currents were washing them up on the beaches. Earlier this year the violations were getting to be what we consider quite significant. ” Coe said that the floating material can harbor pathogenic organisms, “so it represents a potential health hazard. But it also looks bad for tourism. The bulk of the material is tampon inserters, and you also get grease balls congealed by the cold water. My guess as to what caused these violations? I’d say they were probably the result of an overloaded settling tank.”

Dick King agrees that there were some serious violations of the type outlined by Coe. He agrees that the Point Loma settling tanks are overloaded. “The system is designed to treat 120 million gallons of sewage a day,” he explains in his patient, precise way, “and we’re probably running, oh. about 125 million gallons a day through it.” One reason for the overcapacity flow of San Diego’s sewage is simply the area’s rapid growth — more people means more sewage. Another reason, though, is the fact that since 1965 the City of San Diego has routed ten million gallons of Tijuana’s sewage through its Point Loma plant every day. Tijuana has no treatment facility, and pumps its raw sewage into the ocean. According to King, if San Diego were not to accept the current ten million gallons a day. the result is “we get it anyway. The northerly currents wash it up on our beaches.”

Whatever the root cause for the pollution violations, the Regional Water Quality Control Board’s complaints have resulted in a number of improvements planned for the Point Loma plant. One of these is a rotating screen that should be more effective fcrCapturing the bulk material in the city s"sewage. In addition, the plant will begin to treat its sewage chemically. The cost of these and other improvements will be several million dollars, and the question of who should pay most of it has sparked a heated debate among the members of San Diego’s city council.

The proposal before the council states that the cost of the improvements will be met by increasing the monthly sewer charge for both homes and businesses. But the council has the option of raising the rates equally for all users, or passing on the majority of the increase to future users. This is because the improvements — in particular the chemical treatment — will increase the overall capacity of the Point Loma plant by fifty percent, and the increased capacity benefits primarily new housing and other developments,

Councilwoman Lucy Killea is among those who feel that the future residents and businesses should shoulder the bulk of the cost. “In the past, the residents of the suburbs have been supporting new developments [through monthly sewer charges],” she said recently. “When you 're talking about new areas, I feel the people who live there should finance the cost of the improvements.” In a recent councilflebate councilmcn Leon Williams and Larry Stirling sided with Killea. Stirling commented later. “The basic question is: Who pays? My answer is that those who get the additional services should pay.”

Councilmen Fred Sehnaubelt and Bill Lowery disagreed, arguing that passing most of the cost of the improvements on to new users would defeat the city’s efforts to attract new economic development. “If we were talking about capital improvements, then I would say yes. the cost of the improvements should be borne by the newcomers,” Lowery explained. “But the facts are we would have to do these things to the plant whether the capacity was expanded or not. One of the primary things I’m concerned about is that it [passing the cost to new users] will make it prohibitively expensive for new businesses to get sewer hookups here. I find that counterproductive to the city’s efforts to attract economic development. ” (Under the proposal being considered by the council, if the bulk of the expense is passed on to future users, commercial or small industrial hookups — say, for a large housing development or a large laundromat — would increase by $38,300, approximately double the present cost. If new and future users share the cost equally, the same hookup would increase by about $11,300.)

For the time being the proposal has been sent back to its original committee, a move that prompted Killea to comment, “They said it was being sent back to the commit-*«e due to misunderstanding or confusion. . . . There was some misunderstanding, but not on my part. I’m satisfied with my vote as it is.” She added that she expects the proposal eventually to reappear in the council in its present form.

One thing the council members seemed to agree upon is that expanding the area’s sewage treatment capacity is an important first step toward accommodating an increasing population. And, to varying degrees, they all see such an increase as inevitable. “Short of seceding from the nation,” Killea said with a chuckle. “I don’t see how we can keep people from coming here.” Stirling agreed, and added that it was therefore only “responsible” to plan for continued growth. In the short term, he said, limiting sewage treatment capacities or imposing sewer moratoriums (under which no new hookups are permitted) can help to limit new development; but in the long run such measures can lead to shortages and confusion. “As a matter of policy, I don’t think a limited capacity should be used as a growth-control mechanism,” he stated firmly. “Ultimately, it doesn’t bog down growth; it just creates problems by overloading the existing systems. It’s attractive to say that by limiting sewage-treatment capacity San Diego could limit growth, but it’s irresponsible. I’d be happy if not one more person moved to San Diego, but the reality is they’re coming, and we’ve got to plan for it.”

Along the coastal region of San Diego’s North County, a lack of planning is at least partly responsible for a sewer moratorium that has been in effect since April, 1977. The result of that moratorium has been a bitter dispute among developers, local government, and current and would-be users. Last month the ban was lifted in the Leucadia County Water District, which includes most of the exclusive La Costa area; but the debate is not yet over. Although the LWCD says they will now , allow new homes to be built, the bulk of the sewage from those homes will be pumped to the Encina treatment plant in Carlsbad, an arrangement that many Carlsbad residents say stinks.

Under the arrangement sanctioned by the LCWD, a small percentage of the sewage from 3150 new homes approved for development will be treated in a reactivated plant near the intersection of El Camino Real and La Costa Boulevard, and then used to water the La Costa golf course. The remainder — some 750,000 gallons a day — will be sent to the Encina plant. (The Encina plant treats the sewage of Carlsbad. San Marcos, and Leucadia county water districts; each district has an allotted percentage of the plant’s total treatment capability.) But according to Anthony Scotnicki, a Carlsbad city councilman and member of the joint advisory committee to the Encina plant, the additional sewage that LCWD proposes to route through the plant would exceed that district’s allotted percentage. Scotnicki, an articulate, rather grim-faced man of fifty-nine, also says that the additional sewage could cause odor problems at the Encina plant, which is already infamous for its odor problems. Residents living within smelling distance of the plant have complained about it for years; last year the Regional Water Quality Control Board ordered the city to control the odor or face legal action. The problem, it seems, is that the sewage itself foams up while being treated, thereby releasing noxious fumes. In one almost legendary violation, the sewage foamed up to such an extent that it lifted the floating cover off one of the plant’s settling tanks and slopped over into a nearby parking lot. “We’ve spent thousands of dollars, hired engineers to study the problem, you name it,’’ says Scotnicki, “and we still don’t know what specifically causes the material to foam up. But based on past experience, we know that the more of that stuff we handle, the more risks we take.’’

Naturally, the lot owners in La Costa who finally stand to gain their sewer permits aren’t overly concerned with Carlsbad’s potential odor problems. “It [the Encina plant] already smells so bad, how can they say it’s going to smell more now?’’ asked Howard Shapiro rhetorically. Shapiro, who moved here about a year ago from Aspen, Colorado, bought a lot in La Costa last October. He said he was told by the real estate agent who sold it to him that a sewer permit would be available by the first part of 1979. That estimate proved to be wrong, and Shapiro says that every month of delay has cost him about $2000 in inflation and spiraling building costs.

“It’s been frustrating as hell,’’ agreed Lee Kahn, a sixty-nine-year-old retired businessman from Oakbridge, Illinois. Kahn said he bought a La Costa lot in January, 1978, on which he planned to build a four-bedroom home. He went back to Oakbridge, sold his house and business and went on social security. Only when he returned to La Costa in December of 1978, he claims, did he find out that there was a sewer moratorium that prevented him from building at all. At that point the Kahns moved into an apartment in Carlsbad, and they have been fighting ever since for what they perceive as their right to build.

“If anyone had told me it would take two years to take care of this. I’d have told them I’d go crazy after six months, ’ ’ Kahn said. “The whole thing was unfair in that 1 was given every assurance 1 could build. ” Added his wife: “It’s been a long, tough struggle and it’s cost a bundle.’’ The Kahns estimate they lost some $30,000 as a result of their two-year wait.

Lot owners like Shapiro and Kahn have most recently accused Scotnicki of misusing his influence to block them from obtaining their building permits (although sewer permits for La Costa are issued by the Leucadia water district, building permits for most of the areas are issued by the City of Carlsbad). Shapiro further charged that Scotnicki has been using the issue to build an image as a crusading environmentalist. But as it turns out, the end to the moratorium was also opposed by the 300-member La Costa Residents’ Association, who have demonstrated about as much sympathy for the lot owners as the lot owners have for Carlsbad residents living near the Encina treatment plant. The association’s primary concern is that the reactivated sewage treatment plant in La Costa will produce odors obnoxious to the surrounding community.

To a newcomer, the La Costa plant might indeed seem incongruous at its present site: less than seventy-five yards away is a small shopping center that includes a night club, a clothing store, and a yogurt shop. On the bluffs directly above it stands a row of two-story tract homes with red Spanish-style roofs; nearby are condominiums, apartments, tennis courts, and a golf course. “No sewage treatment plant should go in a residential area,” says Dick Schachet, a homeowner and real estate agent who is a member of the La Costa Residents’ Association. “They all smell — the question is how much and for how long.” Schachet feels strongly enough to have filed to run for the Leucadia County Water District this November; aside from the odor problem, he is upset with what he describes as the general lack of planning that accompanied the LCWD’s decision to accommodate 3150 new sewer hookups. “Our schools are already overcrowded,” he insists. “The school board, the police department, the fire department, medical personnel — no one has contacted any of these. I’m not a slow growth advocate. In fact. I’m a rapid growth advocate if the proper planning has been done. All this could have been solved with proper planning a year ago.”

Scotnicki also stresses that the personnel and office space for the community “infrastructure” — police, fire, maintenance, and administrative departments — simply does not exist yet. He adds that some of the most vociferous of the lot owners are those who bought after the moratorium was already in effect — those who “gambled and lost,” as he puts it. (Shapiro, who bought a lot eighteen months after the moratorium was declared, admits he knew about it when he bought; Kahn claims that when he bought his lot nine months after the moratorium was in effect he was told by the La Costa Land Development Company that there were no problems with sewer hookups.) The lot owners, meanwhile, insist that their property taxes will finance the community “infrastructure,” and that they have a right to build.

For the moment, the lot owners appear to have won. Both Kahn and Shapiro have obtained their building permits, and others are receiving theirs. La Costa has a reactivated sewage treatment plant in its midst, and nearly everyone has some lingering bitterness to harbor. Both sides speculate that the Encina treatment plant will eventually be expanded (a move that the EPA and the coastal commission have opposed for the last five years), but meanwhile the moratorium continues in Carlsbad and San Marcos water districts.

“If it were possible to see the pressure building here, it would look like a big gas bag getting ready to explode,” Scotnicki observed recently. “Rancho La Costa has 6000 acres; only 3000 have been developed. Seventy-five percent of the Carlsbad district is undeveloped. Everyone wants to move here, but where are they going to put their crap?

“The sewer moratorium has acted as a bar to development, but it’s an imperfect way of managing growth,” he went on. “It has caused economic hardships. . . . It’s not the kind of solution I would prefer. Government has to work out some comprehensive plan for growth and stick to it. If the government had been more appreciative of the circumstances of North County and had planned properly, there’d have been no need for the sewer moratorium. As a community we deserve this mess we have, because we created it.”

1984: You are driving south toward the Mexican border on Interstate 5. Near the Dairy Mart Road exit you look off to your right and see a series of huge buildings, nine of them, whose roofs are shiny white plastic domes. Inside the buildings sewage is being treated. Each one houses a pond where water hyacinths are cultivated, naturally absorbing lead, mercury, phosphates, and pesticides from waste-water in a series of purifying steps. Fish abound in the artificial ponds, and shrimp scuttle along the bottom; both are destined for commercial canning plants nearby. The wastewater itself is pumped out of the ponds. Filtered and treated to rainwater purity, and eventually routed back into the city’s water supply. Every day a portion of the water hyacinths is removed, dried, and used to produce methane, which provides the treatment plant with electricity.

The above is a scene which the water and sewer utilities department hopes will be realized, and it may not be as expensive or as far-fetched as its opponents would have you believe. The federal grant for a $3.5 million demonstration plant has already been applied for (the plant would be located on I-5 near Dairy Mart Road, or in Mission Valley, or in Rancho Bernardo), and insiders expect it to be approved and built within a year or so. Water hyacinths, which proliferate in river mouths and stagnant ponds, are essentially natural filtering mechanisms that remove pollutants from water. Their use in sewage treatment holds great promise for the future. And wastewater reclamation could eventually insulate the San Diego area from both spiraling water costs and water shortages that now seem certain to affect the county by the mid-1980s. It could also, not incidentally, vastly reduce our pollution of the ocean.

For the present, though, the area’s sewage is funneled through the Point Loma treatment plant. Bob Wileage, an amiable, portly man with glasses and short graying hair, met me at the plant’s administration building on a recent afternoon. Wileage is a shift supervisor, and has worked at the plant on and off for seven years. “Say I’m about fifty, give or take a few, ’’ he says with a smile.

To begin the tour of the plant, Wileage leads the way to the 114-inch-diameter “influent line,” which carries one hundred percent of the area’s sewage into the plant. The pipe curves briefly aboveground where it enters the plant’s grounds, then heads directly for the grit removal tank. Wileage points out the material removed at the latter — sand, rocks — some of which is lying in a mound near the tank. “That’s typical of what we get out of the grit removal tank,” he says. Buckets automatically extract the material from the tank and carry it up to a hopper, from which it is loaded onto trucks. “We take it up there,” he explains, pointing to a distant gouge on the Point Loma cliffs, “and dump it. ”

Next, Wileage heads down toward the sedimentation tanks, known simply as sed tanks. “Do you have a sensitive nose?” he asks as we approach the long, low cement building that houses the sed tanks. “I’m here so much I don’t even notice it anymore. ” But to the newcomer, the odor inside the building is powerful indeed. Oily black water glistens in the six tanks, which are 224 feet long, sixty feet wide, and more than sixteen feet deep. After passing through the grit removal tank, San Diego’s sewage sits in these tanks for an average of two hours while sludge settles to the bottom and is scraped into collecting pipes. Floating material is skimmed off the top, and the remaining wastewater is pumped directly into the outfall line and on into the ocean. “We can control the level of the sed tanks with valves and such,” says Wileage. “If you’ve been in the service, the whole thing works kind of like a ship’s engine room.” He looks at me expectantly. I shake my head.

The EPA has directed the city to study alternatives to this current method of sewage treatment, and there are three main ones, three possible “scenarios,” as Dick King likes to say. The first is that the city would install a secondary treatment plant. This plant, which would likely be located near the junction of I-5 and the Tia Juana River, would cost an estimated $427 million. A second solution is to simply expand the current treatment plant to its utmost capacity, which would cost in the neighborhood of $50 million. The third solution is water reclamation through the use of water hyacinths. It won’t be cheap, but several members of the city council favor this third solution, and so does Dick King. “In the long run, the cost of a combined water and sewer system using water hyacinths — including operation and maintenance costs, which you really have to look at — would be one-third the cost of a conventional system,” he says. “Monthly charges are bound to go up no matter what, but with this type of system we would at least be able to control them. One way or another, we’ll have an alternative by 1983.”

Wileage leads the way down a cement stairwell into a tunnel below the sed tanks. Here brightly colored pipes — dark red, green, sky blue — line the walls, and the whine of pumps fills the long hallway, where no one is to be seen. No one, in fact, comes down here at all, except to check on equipment or make repairs. One pipe bears a yellow-and-black label that reads SCUM, and has an arrow to indicate directional flow; another has a similar label that reads SLUDGE. “The scum is what we skim off the surface of the sed tanks,” Wileage tells me. “We haul it away in trucks to the sanitary fill at Otay Mesa. The sludge goes to the digestors, and from there we pump it to Fiesta Island. It's dried and used as a fertilizer for the city’s parks.” (Although it contains higher than normal levels of heavy metals, the sludge is felt to pose no health problems since the levels of these materials in it are below toxic.)

At the end of the tunnel is a long stairway that leads directly up to the control room, where the levels and pressures of all the plant’s pipes and tanks are monitored on a huge bank of gauges. Wileage explains that in the digestors — monstrous lime-green tanks that hold four million gallons each — the various bacteria and viruses in the sludge are slowly killed, and additional water is removed. Finally,’after about thirty-five days, the , sludge is pumped to Fiesta Island.

“We try to pump the best stuff, the heaviest stuff we have, to Fiesta,” Wileage says, “but even so, the sludge is only about ten percent of the total volume of sewage we handle here at the plant. Ninety percent of it is pumped right out of the sed tanks into the outfall. ” He turns in the direction of the outfall pipe, which begins a few hundred yards from the control room. Through it 555 gallons of fluid is roaring out toward the ocean every second.

“Isn’t that a waste of water?” he asks.

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“Six hours from flush to plant.” - Image by Robert Burroughs
“Six hours from flush to plant.”

Dick King knows what time everyone in San Diego wakes up in the morning. Approximately, at least. King is the city’s director of water and sewer utilities, and he knows that people tend to use their bathrooms most heavily after a night’s sleep, which in turn creates a peak flow of sewage through the city’s massive treatment plant on Point Loma at about noon. “Six hours from flush to plant,” he says cheerily. “If our flow at Point Loma peaks after one in the afternoon, I know you all got up late.”

Dick King: “Fecal matter doesn’t pollute the ocean.”

King is a silver-haired man of fifty-five. He is soft-spoken, wears gold-rimmed glasses, and overall gives off an impression of efficiency. On his wrist is a watch-sized digital calculator that provides him with the date and time as well as allowing him to add, subtract, multiply, and divide. He has a wry sense of humor that hasn’t deserted him in the seven years he has overseen the operation of San Diego’s sewage system. “Everything about the system is public,” he commented recently, “including the sewage.”

Carlsbad's Anthony Scotnicki: "Everyone wants to move here, but where are they going to put their crap?"

King’s humor will serve him well if he plans to remain in his job. since sewage, despite its smelly reputation, is beginning to play an increasingly important role in the area’s growth. In San Diego, the city council is now debating who should pay for improvements to the Point Loma treatment plant — current users or future ones.

In La Costa, a moratorium on sewer hookups has been challenged by new residents who demand their right to build homes there. And looming in the background is the issue of wastewater reclamation, which may ultimately be the county’s only hope for a cheap, plentiful water supply. Stated in its simplest terms, the county’s growth is fundamentally linked to its ability to treat and dispose of sewage.

Control room, where the levels and pressures of all the plant’s pipes and tanks are monitored on a huge bank of gauges.

Hanging on a wall in the administration building of the Point Loma treatment plant there is a map of the greater San Diego area sewer system. The map shows a rootlike system of red lines, each representing a sewer pipe, that increase in size as they near the Point Loma plant. The smallest and most distant lines are in areas like Del Mar, Spring Valley, and National City, where new housing developments planned a few years ago are just now being completed; in actuality the system begins in each individual house, with a single, six-inch-diameter glossy white plastic pipe that funnels the discharges from sinks, toilets, washing machines, and bathtubs into the sewer main buried some ten feet underground. (This plastic pipe is known as a sewer hookup.)

Point Loma treatment plant

The sewer mains feed into larger pipes, known as collectors, that lead in turn to the metropolitan sewer system’s “interceptors” — huge cement pipes a full eight feet in diameter. From the beginning of the system to its end, the pipes lie at ever-increasing depths underground, in order to take advantage of gravity as the main source of flow. Eventually, fifty feet below East Harbor Drive, the entire area’s sewage is funneled into a single pipe more than ten feet across, and, with the aid of four 2250-horsepower pumps; is pushed over the ridge to the Point Loma treatment plant.

In September of last year members of San Diego’s news media were invited to inspect this pipe, which the water and sewer utilities department had temporarily sealed off in order to complete repairs on another line nearby. The visit took place at two in the morning, and was attended by City Manager Ray Blair, Councilman Bill Lowery, and Dick King. From the media, only a reporter from the San Diego Union and a film team from Channel 10 showed up.The TV station’s resulting video tape shows humans walking with ease through the gargantuan, gleaming pipe, smiling bravely in the face of what must have been a powerful stench (though the sewage flow had been stopped, a strong odor remained — a water and sewer utilities department employee had descended into the pipe fust to test the atmosphere for its ability to support life).

Don Jones, another department employee who participated in the visit, remembers that the temperature in the pipe, even at that early-morning hour, was “at least eighty or eighty-five, and the humidity must have been close to a hundred percent. ” In the end, the visit had little significance other than to show San Diegans that their sewage system is alive and well despite the enormous amount of corrosive material that flows through it daily.

Sewage systems were not always so large or sophisticated, of course. The Romans were one of the first cultures to construct sewer systems, but their stone canals were used mainly for drainage and irrigation. It wasn't until the 1800s that the modern concept of citywide sewage disposal systems began to take hold. In London, outbreaks of cholera and typhoid were traced to overflowing cesspools, and by 1847 it was compulsory there for bathrooms to drain directly into pipes which carried the raw sewage to nearby rivers.

The first public sewers in San Diego were built south of Broadway in 1885. Over the next fifty-eight years the city’s raw sewage was discharged into the bay and the Pacific Ocean through some twenty separate outfalls. But the health hazards of raw sewage were well known, and in 1943 the city finally put a sewage treatment plant into operation on East Harbor Drive. The area’s population continued to mushroom, however, and in 1961 work began on a new $52 million facility on the seaward side of Point Loma, near the old lighthouse. That plant, expanded somewhat since its activation on August 15, 1963, currently handles nearly ninety percent of the county’s treated sewage.

What exactly is sewage treatment? “I’ve given it a lot of thought,” says Dick King, “and what it boils down to, what it’s all about, is this: taking stuff out of the sewage, and then handling what you take out.” The “stuff” taken out of San Diego’s sewage at the Point Loma plant is typical of that of almost any American city: rocks, sand, prophylactics, plastic tampon inserters, grease balls, and a lot of organic material that settles out of solution and is known in the trade as sludge. At the Point Loma facility, most of this material is removed from the sewage through a series of settling basins, and the remaining fluid — containing “suspended solids,” pesticides, heavy metals such as lead and mercury, and very likely typhus, cholera, and dysentery bacteria — is pumped through a two-mile-long pipe that splits into a “Y” at its end. There, on a sandy stretch of ocean floor 220 feet below the surface, the liquid waste of America’s Finest City is released into the ocean.

The treatment that sewage undergoes at the Point Loma plant is known as primary treatment. Secondary treatment involves killing the bacteria and viruses and removing an even greater percentage of the metals and “suspended solids.” According to the Environmental Protection Agency, all cities in the United States were supposed to have secondary treatment plants by 1977. But San Diego, as a city with an ocean outfall, may qualify for a waiver from the EPA’s regulations. The reasoning behind this is that organisms living in the ocean kill the bacteria and viruses in sewage anyway, so as long as the deposit of potentially toxic materials is not too high, the ocean itself functions as a kind of secondary treatment plant.

“Fecal matter doesn’t pollute the ocean,” King declares flatly. “A whale has the fecal load of 3000 humans, so if it did pollute the ocean, every time a herd of a hundred whales passed by — say, the equivalent of 300,000 people — we’d be in trouble.

“The fact is that the main problems are the toxicity levels of heavy metals, and pesticides and herbicides. No method of treatment will deal with the latter, but in San Diego we’re very fortunate — we have virtually no pesticides or herbicides in our sewage. These materials occur mostly as a result of agricultural usage, and there just isn’t much agriculture locally that discharges into the sewage system.

“There are also no heavy metals of toxic levels in our local sewage. Again, this isn’t due to any brilliance on my part — we’re just lucky. There’s virtually no industry here.” (Nationwide, high levels of potentially toxic metals in sewage are traceable mainly to industrial activity. In San Diego, industry accounts for only five percent of the total sewage flow.)

A study conducted in 1978 by the Coastal Water Research Project tends to agree with King’s assessment: water and bottom samples taken from the area near the outfall showed no toxic levels of heavy metals or pesticides. But the same study also noted that “municipal waste-water discharges are the principal source of most pollutants entering Southern California waters as a result of human activity,” and went on to point out that the Point Loma outfall, like others in Orange County and Los Angeles, has affected the marine environment in several ways. Though a few species of plants and fish flourish in the vicinity of the outfall, the number of different species has been markedly reduced; and heavy metals and pesticides are clearly building up, even if not yet to toxic levels (thousands of pounds of heavy metals are discharged through the Point Loma outfall each year, along with several hundred pounds of pesticides). As the San Diego area continues to grow, the levels of these materials in local sewage could increase to the point that the city would be obligated to put in expensive equipment to remove them prior to pumping its wastewater into the ocean.

A more immediate concern, however, is overloading at the Point Loma plant that has brought about pollution violations and resulting complaints by several federal and state agencies, including the Regional Water Quality Control Board. The board is “basically a regulatory agency for liquid waste discharges.” according to one of its senior engineers. Art Coe. Coe, a stocky, dark-haired man, who, at thirty-eight, might pass for John Belushi’s older brother, said in an interview recently that the Point Loma plant has violated the board’s regulations on a number of occasions. Most significant among these violations was the discharge of “floatable solids” through the ocean outfall. “These solids were coming to the surface over the discharge area,” Coe explained, “and onshore winds and currents were washing them up on the beaches. Earlier this year the violations were getting to be what we consider quite significant. ” Coe said that the floating material can harbor pathogenic organisms, “so it represents a potential health hazard. But it also looks bad for tourism. The bulk of the material is tampon inserters, and you also get grease balls congealed by the cold water. My guess as to what caused these violations? I’d say they were probably the result of an overloaded settling tank.”

Dick King agrees that there were some serious violations of the type outlined by Coe. He agrees that the Point Loma settling tanks are overloaded. “The system is designed to treat 120 million gallons of sewage a day,” he explains in his patient, precise way, “and we’re probably running, oh. about 125 million gallons a day through it.” One reason for the overcapacity flow of San Diego’s sewage is simply the area’s rapid growth — more people means more sewage. Another reason, though, is the fact that since 1965 the City of San Diego has routed ten million gallons of Tijuana’s sewage through its Point Loma plant every day. Tijuana has no treatment facility, and pumps its raw sewage into the ocean. According to King, if San Diego were not to accept the current ten million gallons a day. the result is “we get it anyway. The northerly currents wash it up on our beaches.”

Whatever the root cause for the pollution violations, the Regional Water Quality Control Board’s complaints have resulted in a number of improvements planned for the Point Loma plant. One of these is a rotating screen that should be more effective fcrCapturing the bulk material in the city s"sewage. In addition, the plant will begin to treat its sewage chemically. The cost of these and other improvements will be several million dollars, and the question of who should pay most of it has sparked a heated debate among the members of San Diego’s city council.

The proposal before the council states that the cost of the improvements will be met by increasing the monthly sewer charge for both homes and businesses. But the council has the option of raising the rates equally for all users, or passing on the majority of the increase to future users. This is because the improvements — in particular the chemical treatment — will increase the overall capacity of the Point Loma plant by fifty percent, and the increased capacity benefits primarily new housing and other developments,

Councilwoman Lucy Killea is among those who feel that the future residents and businesses should shoulder the bulk of the cost. “In the past, the residents of the suburbs have been supporting new developments [through monthly sewer charges],” she said recently. “When you 're talking about new areas, I feel the people who live there should finance the cost of the improvements.” In a recent councilflebate councilmcn Leon Williams and Larry Stirling sided with Killea. Stirling commented later. “The basic question is: Who pays? My answer is that those who get the additional services should pay.”

Councilmen Fred Sehnaubelt and Bill Lowery disagreed, arguing that passing most of the cost of the improvements on to new users would defeat the city’s efforts to attract new economic development. “If we were talking about capital improvements, then I would say yes. the cost of the improvements should be borne by the newcomers,” Lowery explained. “But the facts are we would have to do these things to the plant whether the capacity was expanded or not. One of the primary things I’m concerned about is that it [passing the cost to new users] will make it prohibitively expensive for new businesses to get sewer hookups here. I find that counterproductive to the city’s efforts to attract economic development. ” (Under the proposal being considered by the council, if the bulk of the expense is passed on to future users, commercial or small industrial hookups — say, for a large housing development or a large laundromat — would increase by $38,300, approximately double the present cost. If new and future users share the cost equally, the same hookup would increase by about $11,300.)

For the time being the proposal has been sent back to its original committee, a move that prompted Killea to comment, “They said it was being sent back to the commit-*«e due to misunderstanding or confusion. . . . There was some misunderstanding, but not on my part. I’m satisfied with my vote as it is.” She added that she expects the proposal eventually to reappear in the council in its present form.

One thing the council members seemed to agree upon is that expanding the area’s sewage treatment capacity is an important first step toward accommodating an increasing population. And, to varying degrees, they all see such an increase as inevitable. “Short of seceding from the nation,” Killea said with a chuckle. “I don’t see how we can keep people from coming here.” Stirling agreed, and added that it was therefore only “responsible” to plan for continued growth. In the short term, he said, limiting sewage treatment capacities or imposing sewer moratoriums (under which no new hookups are permitted) can help to limit new development; but in the long run such measures can lead to shortages and confusion. “As a matter of policy, I don’t think a limited capacity should be used as a growth-control mechanism,” he stated firmly. “Ultimately, it doesn’t bog down growth; it just creates problems by overloading the existing systems. It’s attractive to say that by limiting sewage-treatment capacity San Diego could limit growth, but it’s irresponsible. I’d be happy if not one more person moved to San Diego, but the reality is they’re coming, and we’ve got to plan for it.”

Along the coastal region of San Diego’s North County, a lack of planning is at least partly responsible for a sewer moratorium that has been in effect since April, 1977. The result of that moratorium has been a bitter dispute among developers, local government, and current and would-be users. Last month the ban was lifted in the Leucadia County Water District, which includes most of the exclusive La Costa area; but the debate is not yet over. Although the LWCD says they will now , allow new homes to be built, the bulk of the sewage from those homes will be pumped to the Encina treatment plant in Carlsbad, an arrangement that many Carlsbad residents say stinks.

Under the arrangement sanctioned by the LCWD, a small percentage of the sewage from 3150 new homes approved for development will be treated in a reactivated plant near the intersection of El Camino Real and La Costa Boulevard, and then used to water the La Costa golf course. The remainder — some 750,000 gallons a day — will be sent to the Encina plant. (The Encina plant treats the sewage of Carlsbad. San Marcos, and Leucadia county water districts; each district has an allotted percentage of the plant’s total treatment capability.) But according to Anthony Scotnicki, a Carlsbad city councilman and member of the joint advisory committee to the Encina plant, the additional sewage that LCWD proposes to route through the plant would exceed that district’s allotted percentage. Scotnicki, an articulate, rather grim-faced man of fifty-nine, also says that the additional sewage could cause odor problems at the Encina plant, which is already infamous for its odor problems. Residents living within smelling distance of the plant have complained about it for years; last year the Regional Water Quality Control Board ordered the city to control the odor or face legal action. The problem, it seems, is that the sewage itself foams up while being treated, thereby releasing noxious fumes. In one almost legendary violation, the sewage foamed up to such an extent that it lifted the floating cover off one of the plant’s settling tanks and slopped over into a nearby parking lot. “We’ve spent thousands of dollars, hired engineers to study the problem, you name it,’’ says Scotnicki, “and we still don’t know what specifically causes the material to foam up. But based on past experience, we know that the more of that stuff we handle, the more risks we take.’’

Naturally, the lot owners in La Costa who finally stand to gain their sewer permits aren’t overly concerned with Carlsbad’s potential odor problems. “It [the Encina plant] already smells so bad, how can they say it’s going to smell more now?’’ asked Howard Shapiro rhetorically. Shapiro, who moved here about a year ago from Aspen, Colorado, bought a lot in La Costa last October. He said he was told by the real estate agent who sold it to him that a sewer permit would be available by the first part of 1979. That estimate proved to be wrong, and Shapiro says that every month of delay has cost him about $2000 in inflation and spiraling building costs.

“It’s been frustrating as hell,’’ agreed Lee Kahn, a sixty-nine-year-old retired businessman from Oakbridge, Illinois. Kahn said he bought a La Costa lot in January, 1978, on which he planned to build a four-bedroom home. He went back to Oakbridge, sold his house and business and went on social security. Only when he returned to La Costa in December of 1978, he claims, did he find out that there was a sewer moratorium that prevented him from building at all. At that point the Kahns moved into an apartment in Carlsbad, and they have been fighting ever since for what they perceive as their right to build.

“If anyone had told me it would take two years to take care of this. I’d have told them I’d go crazy after six months, ’ ’ Kahn said. “The whole thing was unfair in that 1 was given every assurance 1 could build. ” Added his wife: “It’s been a long, tough struggle and it’s cost a bundle.’’ The Kahns estimate they lost some $30,000 as a result of their two-year wait.

Lot owners like Shapiro and Kahn have most recently accused Scotnicki of misusing his influence to block them from obtaining their building permits (although sewer permits for La Costa are issued by the Leucadia water district, building permits for most of the areas are issued by the City of Carlsbad). Shapiro further charged that Scotnicki has been using the issue to build an image as a crusading environmentalist. But as it turns out, the end to the moratorium was also opposed by the 300-member La Costa Residents’ Association, who have demonstrated about as much sympathy for the lot owners as the lot owners have for Carlsbad residents living near the Encina treatment plant. The association’s primary concern is that the reactivated sewage treatment plant in La Costa will produce odors obnoxious to the surrounding community.

To a newcomer, the La Costa plant might indeed seem incongruous at its present site: less than seventy-five yards away is a small shopping center that includes a night club, a clothing store, and a yogurt shop. On the bluffs directly above it stands a row of two-story tract homes with red Spanish-style roofs; nearby are condominiums, apartments, tennis courts, and a golf course. “No sewage treatment plant should go in a residential area,” says Dick Schachet, a homeowner and real estate agent who is a member of the La Costa Residents’ Association. “They all smell — the question is how much and for how long.” Schachet feels strongly enough to have filed to run for the Leucadia County Water District this November; aside from the odor problem, he is upset with what he describes as the general lack of planning that accompanied the LCWD’s decision to accommodate 3150 new sewer hookups. “Our schools are already overcrowded,” he insists. “The school board, the police department, the fire department, medical personnel — no one has contacted any of these. I’m not a slow growth advocate. In fact. I’m a rapid growth advocate if the proper planning has been done. All this could have been solved with proper planning a year ago.”

Scotnicki also stresses that the personnel and office space for the community “infrastructure” — police, fire, maintenance, and administrative departments — simply does not exist yet. He adds that some of the most vociferous of the lot owners are those who bought after the moratorium was already in effect — those who “gambled and lost,” as he puts it. (Shapiro, who bought a lot eighteen months after the moratorium was declared, admits he knew about it when he bought; Kahn claims that when he bought his lot nine months after the moratorium was in effect he was told by the La Costa Land Development Company that there were no problems with sewer hookups.) The lot owners, meanwhile, insist that their property taxes will finance the community “infrastructure,” and that they have a right to build.

For the moment, the lot owners appear to have won. Both Kahn and Shapiro have obtained their building permits, and others are receiving theirs. La Costa has a reactivated sewage treatment plant in its midst, and nearly everyone has some lingering bitterness to harbor. Both sides speculate that the Encina treatment plant will eventually be expanded (a move that the EPA and the coastal commission have opposed for the last five years), but meanwhile the moratorium continues in Carlsbad and San Marcos water districts.

“If it were possible to see the pressure building here, it would look like a big gas bag getting ready to explode,” Scotnicki observed recently. “Rancho La Costa has 6000 acres; only 3000 have been developed. Seventy-five percent of the Carlsbad district is undeveloped. Everyone wants to move here, but where are they going to put their crap?

“The sewer moratorium has acted as a bar to development, but it’s an imperfect way of managing growth,” he went on. “It has caused economic hardships. . . . It’s not the kind of solution I would prefer. Government has to work out some comprehensive plan for growth and stick to it. If the government had been more appreciative of the circumstances of North County and had planned properly, there’d have been no need for the sewer moratorium. As a community we deserve this mess we have, because we created it.”

1984: You are driving south toward the Mexican border on Interstate 5. Near the Dairy Mart Road exit you look off to your right and see a series of huge buildings, nine of them, whose roofs are shiny white plastic domes. Inside the buildings sewage is being treated. Each one houses a pond where water hyacinths are cultivated, naturally absorbing lead, mercury, phosphates, and pesticides from waste-water in a series of purifying steps. Fish abound in the artificial ponds, and shrimp scuttle along the bottom; both are destined for commercial canning plants nearby. The wastewater itself is pumped out of the ponds. Filtered and treated to rainwater purity, and eventually routed back into the city’s water supply. Every day a portion of the water hyacinths is removed, dried, and used to produce methane, which provides the treatment plant with electricity.

The above is a scene which the water and sewer utilities department hopes will be realized, and it may not be as expensive or as far-fetched as its opponents would have you believe. The federal grant for a $3.5 million demonstration plant has already been applied for (the plant would be located on I-5 near Dairy Mart Road, or in Mission Valley, or in Rancho Bernardo), and insiders expect it to be approved and built within a year or so. Water hyacinths, which proliferate in river mouths and stagnant ponds, are essentially natural filtering mechanisms that remove pollutants from water. Their use in sewage treatment holds great promise for the future. And wastewater reclamation could eventually insulate the San Diego area from both spiraling water costs and water shortages that now seem certain to affect the county by the mid-1980s. It could also, not incidentally, vastly reduce our pollution of the ocean.

For the present, though, the area’s sewage is funneled through the Point Loma treatment plant. Bob Wileage, an amiable, portly man with glasses and short graying hair, met me at the plant’s administration building on a recent afternoon. Wileage is a shift supervisor, and has worked at the plant on and off for seven years. “Say I’m about fifty, give or take a few, ’’ he says with a smile.

To begin the tour of the plant, Wileage leads the way to the 114-inch-diameter “influent line,” which carries one hundred percent of the area’s sewage into the plant. The pipe curves briefly aboveground where it enters the plant’s grounds, then heads directly for the grit removal tank. Wileage points out the material removed at the latter — sand, rocks — some of which is lying in a mound near the tank. “That’s typical of what we get out of the grit removal tank,” he says. Buckets automatically extract the material from the tank and carry it up to a hopper, from which it is loaded onto trucks. “We take it up there,” he explains, pointing to a distant gouge on the Point Loma cliffs, “and dump it. ”

Next, Wileage heads down toward the sedimentation tanks, known simply as sed tanks. “Do you have a sensitive nose?” he asks as we approach the long, low cement building that houses the sed tanks. “I’m here so much I don’t even notice it anymore. ” But to the newcomer, the odor inside the building is powerful indeed. Oily black water glistens in the six tanks, which are 224 feet long, sixty feet wide, and more than sixteen feet deep. After passing through the grit removal tank, San Diego’s sewage sits in these tanks for an average of two hours while sludge settles to the bottom and is scraped into collecting pipes. Floating material is skimmed off the top, and the remaining wastewater is pumped directly into the outfall line and on into the ocean. “We can control the level of the sed tanks with valves and such,” says Wileage. “If you’ve been in the service, the whole thing works kind of like a ship’s engine room.” He looks at me expectantly. I shake my head.

The EPA has directed the city to study alternatives to this current method of sewage treatment, and there are three main ones, three possible “scenarios,” as Dick King likes to say. The first is that the city would install a secondary treatment plant. This plant, which would likely be located near the junction of I-5 and the Tia Juana River, would cost an estimated $427 million. A second solution is to simply expand the current treatment plant to its utmost capacity, which would cost in the neighborhood of $50 million. The third solution is water reclamation through the use of water hyacinths. It won’t be cheap, but several members of the city council favor this third solution, and so does Dick King. “In the long run, the cost of a combined water and sewer system using water hyacinths — including operation and maintenance costs, which you really have to look at — would be one-third the cost of a conventional system,” he says. “Monthly charges are bound to go up no matter what, but with this type of system we would at least be able to control them. One way or another, we’ll have an alternative by 1983.”

Wileage leads the way down a cement stairwell into a tunnel below the sed tanks. Here brightly colored pipes — dark red, green, sky blue — line the walls, and the whine of pumps fills the long hallway, where no one is to be seen. No one, in fact, comes down here at all, except to check on equipment or make repairs. One pipe bears a yellow-and-black label that reads SCUM, and has an arrow to indicate directional flow; another has a similar label that reads SLUDGE. “The scum is what we skim off the surface of the sed tanks,” Wileage tells me. “We haul it away in trucks to the sanitary fill at Otay Mesa. The sludge goes to the digestors, and from there we pump it to Fiesta Island. It's dried and used as a fertilizer for the city’s parks.” (Although it contains higher than normal levels of heavy metals, the sludge is felt to pose no health problems since the levels of these materials in it are below toxic.)

At the end of the tunnel is a long stairway that leads directly up to the control room, where the levels and pressures of all the plant’s pipes and tanks are monitored on a huge bank of gauges. Wileage explains that in the digestors — monstrous lime-green tanks that hold four million gallons each — the various bacteria and viruses in the sludge are slowly killed, and additional water is removed. Finally,’after about thirty-five days, the , sludge is pumped to Fiesta Island.

“We try to pump the best stuff, the heaviest stuff we have, to Fiesta,” Wileage says, “but even so, the sludge is only about ten percent of the total volume of sewage we handle here at the plant. Ninety percent of it is pumped right out of the sed tanks into the outfall. ” He turns in the direction of the outfall pipe, which begins a few hundred yards from the control room. Through it 555 gallons of fluid is roaring out toward the ocean every second.

“Isn’t that a waste of water?” he asks.

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