River Wastewater Treatment Plant. The 10 mile backup was discovered in 2010 as a result of this consent decree.
When the sewer system is overloaded, excess is funneled into structured overflow areas and discharged into waterways, something that environmental advocacy groups criticize.
“The system is doing what it’s designed to do, but it’s not as if we’re hitting a button to intentionally dump waste into waterways,” Kocher said, explaining that the system was built in a time when the environment was not as protected. “It takes time. We have to take steps.”
If the overflow areas are shut off entirely, sewage can back up into residents’ basements and bathtubs, Kocher said.
“It has to go somewhere,” he explained.
Due to financial and structural difficulties, the City missed the consent decree’s original Jan. 1, 2016, deadline. Agencies later agreed that the goal was unreasonable.
“For the vast majority of the consent decree, we met the goals,” he said, adding that they discovered more problems in the process of fulfilling the original consent decree.
In addition to developing a comprehensive plan, the department completed 11 sewer main projects, began construction on 12 more, and began designing another 11.
Addressing issues using green energy
Critics have said that a fix isn’t coming fast enough. City officials said they are limited by resources and are hoping to be fiscally responsible.
“Even the tools we have— like ground sonar—they aren’t perfect,” Kocher said. “We need people to actually get into the tunnels to examine the problem.”
Gallagher stressed the need to solve large, systemic problems with permanent, responsible solutions, instead of putting bandaids on symptoms.
“To be fiscally responsible, it doesn’t make sense to throw money at symptoms until you know what the overarching problem is,” Gallagher said. “Then you can get a permanent solution.”
Constructing the program will cost a lot of money, and maintaining the system will increase costs too. It will require more electrical energy to pump waste into the treatment plant.
To cut costs and to develop a more sustainable operation, the plant began using green energy sources.
A field of solar panels was installed, providing a megawatt of power, which is about eight percent of the plant’s total consumption.
“There’s been a concerted effort in this administration with [Public Works] Secretary Chow to use sustainables as much as possible,” Kocher said.
Some waste is burned to produce electrical energy, producing 20 percent of the plant’s needed energy.
“Over a quarter of the energy is green energy,” Gallagher said.
The plant constantly un- dergoes upgrades to enhance operations and function more efficiently.
Pointing to a model of the treatment plant built in December 2001, Kocher said “this is out of date now. The plant undergoes one upgrade after another.”
The latest program, in addition to the solar panels, is an enhanced nutrient removal (ENR) program.
The goal of this program is to keep nutrients out of the water, preventing excessive amounts of algae blooms, which are harmful to aquatic life.
“Our number one goal is the environment and getting it better,” Gallagher said.