City Council may OK funds for new waste facility

City seeks to retire polluting incinerators in the Baylands

Palo Alto has a rich history of discord and disagreement when it comes to disposing of the city's organic waste, but if there is one project that brings all the sides in the debate together it's the city's plan to retire the incinerators that have been burning sludge in the Baylands for more than 40 years.

On Monday night, the City Council is expected to approve a $2.3 million contract with a firm that would design the city's new sludge-dewatering and haul-out facility. Once in place, the facility would allow the city to send its dried-out sewage sludge to another waste plant that would either compost it or process it into an agricultural product, according to a staff report.

The $12 million dewatering plant would allow the city to retire its incinerators, which are notorious for emitting high levels of greenhouse gases and producing hazardous ash that the city must export every week to Kettleman City.

Eventually, the city plans to also build an anaerobic digester near the sewage plant that would convert sludge into energy. Food waste would later be added to the materials processed at the new plant.

Palo Alto has also been exploring options for composting, though that effort became less urgent last October, when the city received several proposals from private companies and determined that its current practice of exporting local yard-trimmings would be much cheaper.

The design process for the dewatering and haul-out facility is scheduled to take about 14 months and be completed by around March 2016, according to a new Public Works report. Construction is expected to take about three years and be completed in July 2019, at which time the incinerators would be retired.

Palo Alto is currently one of only two agencies in the state that uses incinerators (Central Contra Costa Sanitary District is the only other one). The City Council in May wholeheartedly supported the retirement of the incinerators.

The new report notes that the design contract is a "key step in ... paving the way for the future anaerobic digester system that will produce local, renewable energy that can run the RWQCP (Regional Water Quality Control Plant)."

The new sewage-treatment equipment will include three large tanks known as gravity thickeners with sludge pumps; a scum concentrator (a tank with heating equipment and a pump); three 2-meter-wide belt-filter presses that will dewater the incoming sludge; and a conveyance system that will bring the dewatered sludge cake into three elevated storage bins. According to the preliminary design report for the new facility, each of these bins would have a "discharger" allowing the dewatered sludge to be removed from the bins and conveyed by a rubber chute into hauling trucks.

What is community worth to you?
Support local journalism.


1 person likes this
Posted by Hamilton
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 10, 2015 at 12:02 pm

Getting rid of this incinerator sounds like a good idea.

Like this comment
Posted by Polly Wanacracker
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 10, 2015 at 12:34 pm

Another burning issue.

4 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 10, 2015 at 1:27 pm

Just a reminder that it's not only "our" wastewater, but also that of Mountain View, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Stanford University, and East Palo Alto. I wonder how close to capacity we are running out there, whether it's constrained by the network of collection pipes or by the end facility, and where we are headed when the next five years of regional development catches up with us. We may be sending less water down the drain, but I suspect the amount of "solids" is increasing.

1 person likes this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 11, 2015 at 12:35 pm

as a frequent hiker of the baylands i find it so
amazingly hypocritical for the City to be trying to
project its image as some sort of stanford associated
green think tank of environmental progressivism, and
then never tell us what our city is doing to get its
water, sewage, power or other things in a clear
accessible easy to discuss form so that Palo Altans
get on the same page with something sane.

These are things that should be front and center
of any kind of city "dashboard" citizen's interface.

if we are incinerating waste here in palo alto,
where are the fumes going and how are they


they track the most minute parts per billion
of solvents underground, but what about the
stuff that is in the air?

it stinks quite a bit when you go out there.

what are the rules and practices they have
around burning and venting these fumes and
how many palo altans and others are exposed
to what kind of levels of resultant waste?

is this just another thing people who know better
ignore so that "green" can be used more as
political marketing tool instead of something
that will improve the lives of residents?

5 people like this
Posted by Emily Renzel
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 12, 2015 at 10:50 am

A small but significant correction...The Wet Anaerobic Digester for Biosolids and Commercial Food Scraps will be built ON the Sewage Plant site, not "near it" as reported in the article. CrescentParkAnon must be new in town, because the Sewage Plant incinerator has been the subject of public discussion for at least 7 years and was highly publicized in the 2011 election and various City Council actions since then. But, CPAnon, keep enjoying the baylands and paying attention to how the City cares for them.

Like this comment
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 12, 2015 at 11:09 am

Emily Renzel, Thanks for the information, couched in the
thick condescension as it was.

I should not be the issue here. As I said, if we really
want to be the progressive diverse techno-city of the future
we should have some kind of dashboard monitoring
process so we can read and focus are attention not just
on the marketing things the City wants to sell us on, but
on what is really important to residents.

As it happens, I am not new to town as you assume with
no reason, in fact I'll bet I've lived here longer than you.
I know there has been a discussion of the sewage
treatment plant since it was built ... I was there for that
but I was a kid.

The problem is ... go ask Palo Altans if they have any idea
what goes on it there, and what comes out of it, and
where it goes, and who breathes it in? You've lived here
so long, what's your sense of that?

So, I'd say if I have not heard about it, and the Baylands
continues to stink worse than ever that maybe its the City
that is not getting its message out, because I look - maybe
not as much as you Emily, but is that really the criterion
we need to decide if the City is getting its message out
what you and a few people with lots of space time think.

1 person likes this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 12, 2015 at 11:21 am

>> CrescentParkAnon must be new in town, because the Sewage Plant incinerator has been the subject of public discussion for at least 7 years and was highly publicized in the 2011 election and various City Council actions since then.

Or maybe CrescentParkAnon was not on the City Council. Of course you might know a bit more, but maybe as a person active in Palo Alto politics you might aim some criticism at yourself on how well you and the City government ever get your message out clearly and widely to the public instead of blaming the residents.

I thought your name sounded familiar, but seriously, do you really think when people who pay attention more than average ... and I think I do, guess I could be wrong about that, but I think it is more critical of the job the council and city government is doing than a warranted dig at a resident who uses the Baylands and wants to see it improve.

I and, I imagine, most Palo Altan's who think about it would like to know what is our exposure to whatever comes out of the Palo Alto sewage plant? Maybe most people don't have the time to think much about it.

Like the airplane noise, or what settles down into our air from that.

2 people like this
Posted by Gridlock: It's Official
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 12, 2015 at 12:36 pm

What *IS* Palo Alto's obsession with waste and utilities? Being "green" is not a religious issue and we don't live in splendid isolation.

How about if the City get its priorities straight and just focus on delivering COST-EFFECTIVE services, not marking literature, not sanctimonious mailers, not contests.

How about if the City start using some common sense? If you change to parallel parking near a busy intersection, it causes traffic backups which cause gridlocks which cause pollution which cause frustration..... If you keep approving under-parked buildings while cutting lanes of traffic, what do you get? Gridlock and frustration.

Or maybe we need to fund a project on levitating cars?

Like this comment
Posted by Dave Thompson
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 26, 2015 at 11:58 am

I think the new waste facility will be a great things for the community. Like you point out in the article this new facility will help to remove pollution being put out into the environment by the old incinerator. Also the building of this facility will give jobs to those that are both building the facility and those that will be working in it. I hope the council approves this new waste plant. Web Link

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

All your news. All in one place. Every day.

After 39 years of cakes and pastries, Palo Alto institution Prolific Oven to close
By Elena Kadvany | 59 comments | 18,289 views

Local Transit to the Rescue?
By Sherry Listgarten | 20 comments | 2,744 views

The Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) Process Explained
By Steve Levy | 15 comments | 1,720 views

"You Gotta Have Balls [to do counseling] . . .
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,537 views

Eating Green on the Green – August 25
By Laura Stec | 0 comments | 573 views


Register now!

‚ÄčOn Friday, October 11, join us at the Palo Alto Baylands for a 5K walk, 5K run, 10K run or half marathon! All proceeds benefit local nonprofits serving children and families.

More Info