Richmond, Veolia stopped at wastewater crossroads
on September 10, 2012
[Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to note that while the city has approved a separation agreement with Veolia Water and directed staff to look for other options, it has not terminated the contract.]
Almost a year after the City Council approved a separation agreement with Veolia Water, the city is still searching for an alternative wastewater treatment method.
Operational challenges at the Veolia plant in late 2010 and in much of 2011 led to a series of odor complaints from Richmond residents. The City Council approved a separation agreement and directed staff to explore other wastewater management options in December 2011.
Still, representatives from the city and Veolia agree: little has been done since then.
Sludge handling starts in homes and businesses, where wastewater is collected from toilets and tubs and sent to the sewer system. From there, it flows through pipes and makes its way to the Veolia plant, where the water and sewage is chemically treated and then discharged into the San Francisco Bay.
Beyond approving a separation agreement, the Council also voted last December to investigate an interconnecting pipeline between the city of Richmond’s wastewater system and East Bay Municipal Utilities District’s system, City Manager Bill Lindsay said.
The city has entered into a contract with EBMUD to study the cost of building the pipeline compared to the cost of fixing the current wastewater treatment plant. If building the pipeline turns out to be a better option, the city’s wastewater treatment would no longer operate out of the Richmond facility, Lindsay said.
After the study is complete—Lindsay says the process could take six months to one year—the matter will return to the City Council, where a vote will determine the next step forward.
In the meantime, Aaron Winer, the project manager for Veolia’s Richmond facility, said that Veolia remedied the odor issues from last fall by installing a new digester cover late last year. The company returned to routine operational mode as of January this year and has seen only a handful of complaints since last December, he said.
Lindsay confirmed that odor complaints have been down since last fall.
Veolia has also created a website that issues community updates, and established a presence at Point Richmond Neighborhood Council meetings.
“In general, we tried to be more visible, to provide names and faces so when something comes up [the community] knows who to talk to,” Winer said. “We continue to try to work hard to provide the service to the city.”
Should the city choose the EBMUD project, it could take several years to get the new system up and running, Lindsay said.
“We need to make sure there are adequate improvements made to the plant so they can operate safely and odor-free at least until we make that change,” he said. “No matter which way we go, we need to take some significant steps to improve our ability to handle wastewater.”
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Goes to show that signing a contract of this magnitude, with the highest contributor, is not in the City’s best interest.