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With costs going up, Palo Alto ponders next steps for new water treatment plants

City Council to discuss proposals for salt-removal plant and purification facility on San Antonio Road site

The Palo Alto City Council will discuss cost projections for an industrial plant that would remove salt from local treated wastewater at the former Los Altos Water Treatment Plant on Sept. 12, 2022. Embarcadero Media file photo by Magali Gauthier.

The sprawling and largely undeveloped site at the eastern end of San Antonio Road in Palo Alto has seen little action in the 50 years since the Los Altos Wastewater Treatment Plant ceased its operations there.

While the city's trash hauler, GreenWaste, currently uses a southern portion of the Palo Alto site to sort its construction waste, the area is best known these days for its potential. Last month, the city received a $26.6 million grant from the state's Project Homekey program to build a transitional housing program for homeless individuals.

On Monday, the City Council will consider a municipal project with an even higher price tag and complexity: an industrial plant that would remove salt from local treated wastewater, making it more palatable for trees and vegetation and expanding its usage to more customers.

The desalination plant is a major component of the agreement that Palo Alto signed with Valley Water in 2019, which also envisions a larger water purification plant that would turn effluent water into potable water. At that time, Valley Water estimated that the salt-removal plant would cost $20 million and offered to contribute $16 million toward its cost. The balance would be split between Mountain View, which would contribute 75%, and Palo Alto, which would provide the remaining 25%.

Both the water agency and its partner cities have long touted the benefits of the salt-removal plant, which would allow Palo Alto to expand a recycled-water system that today is largely limited to Shoreline Park and Baylands Golf Links. Now, however, they are also confronting a fresh barrier: costs that have more than doubled since the project was proposed.

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According to an estimate from the firm Black & Veatch, which the city commissioned last year to evaluate the cost of the salt-removal plant, the projected construction cost has gone up from $19.5 million in 2017 to $40.5 million today. When other costs, including engineering services and construction management and program management, are factored in, the total cost is estimated at $52.6 million, up from $22.4 million in 2017.

The latest cost projections, which the council plans to discuss on Monday, reflect the "volatility and increases in construction prices since 2017 and the progression of the design from conceptual level to a fuller design that includes elements not initially considered," a new report from the Public Works Department states. This includes changing the design of the facility's foundations and raising electrical equipment in accordance with the city's policy on sea level rise.

The city is anticipating a $12.9 million grant from the federal government to help pay for the project. If the grant comes in, Palo Alto would be on the hook for about $6.2 million, while Mountain View would cover about $18.5 million under the 2019 agreement with Valley Water. With fresh estimates scheduled to come in at the end of this month, both cities plan to evaluate the new figures before moving ahead with construction, according to staff.

A plant to purify water

Intake pumps receive treated wastewater at the Silicon Valley Advanced Water Purification Center in San Jose on March 21, 2022. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

In addition to planning for the salt-removing facility, Palo Alto is working with Valley Water on a new purification plant that would also occupy the San Antonio site. This project, however, would be financed by Valley Water and operated through public-private partnerships, according to the agency.

The city and the water agency are working on a lease agreement for the site, which would be brought to the council for consideration at a future date.

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If approved, the project would involve constructing a purification plant, a pump station and conveyance pipelines that would move local treated wastewater from the Regional Water Quality Control Plant near the Baylands to the San Antonio site, as well as from the site to the Los Gatos Recharge System complex in Campbell.

A look at how the water will get from Palo Alto's Regional Water Quality Control Plant to Campell's groundwater basin. Map by Jamey Padojino.

Valley Water has been planning a new purification plant for years. Last December, the agency's board voted to approve a staff proposal to move ahead with a project on the Palo Alto site. That followed months of discussions with both Palo Alto and San Jose, where Valley Water is hoping to expand the existing Silicon Valley Advanced Water Purification Center.

Kirsten Struve, assistant officer for the water supply division at Valley Water, made the case to the board for moving ahead with choosing the Palo Alto site as the agency issues a "request for proposals" for work on the purification plant. She noted that negotiations with San Jose would likely take some time and cited the urgency of the project, "particularly in the face of the current drought and expected future route."

The board unanimously voted to select Palo Alto, with Chair Tony Estremera lauding the partnership for a new purification plant as a "once in a lifetime, generational achievement."

"These are basically the things that we leave behind," Estremera said at the meeting.

The new purification plant would rely on a process known as reverse osmosis to convert treated wastewater into potable water. Under this process, every 100 gallons of treated wastewater would produce about 85 gallons of purified water. The remaining 15 gallons would consist of "reverse osmosis concentrate" — the brine that gets left behind through the purification process.

Under the current proposal, the reverse osmosis concentrate would be blended with wastewater effluent and discharged into the Bay — the same process that has been used at the San Jose-Santa Clara Regional Wastewater Facility since 2014.

According to Palo Alto staff, the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board would need to approve the discharge permit and may require pretreatment of the reverse osmosis concentrate before it is discharged into the Bay. The staff report notes that Palo Alto will ensure that Valley Water is responsible for the discharge of reverse osmosis concentrate and any associated risks.

Four flasks contain water from different stages of the wastewater purification process at the Silicon Valley Advanced Water Purification Center in San Jose on March 21, 2022. On the left is treated wastewater the center receives from the San Jose-Santa Clara Wastewater Facility. On the far right is crystal clear purified water after going through the purification process. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

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Gennady Sheyner
 
Gennady Sheyner covers the City Hall beat in Palo Alto as well as regional politics, with a special focus on housing and transportation. Before joining the Palo Alto Weekly/PaloAltoOnline.com in 2008, he covered breaking news and local politics for the Waterbury Republican-American, a daily newspaper in Connecticut. Read more >>

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With costs going up, Palo Alto ponders next steps for new water treatment plants

City Council to discuss proposals for salt-removal plant and purification facility on San Antonio Road site

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Wed, Sep 7, 2022, 4:03 pm

The sprawling and largely undeveloped site at the eastern end of San Antonio Road in Palo Alto has seen little action in the 50 years since the Los Altos Wastewater Treatment Plant ceased its operations there.

While the city's trash hauler, GreenWaste, currently uses a southern portion of the Palo Alto site to sort its construction waste, the area is best known these days for its potential. Last month, the city received a $26.6 million grant from the state's Project Homekey program to build a transitional housing program for homeless individuals.

On Monday, the City Council will consider a municipal project with an even higher price tag and complexity: an industrial plant that would remove salt from local treated wastewater, making it more palatable for trees and vegetation and expanding its usage to more customers.

The desalination plant is a major component of the agreement that Palo Alto signed with Valley Water in 2019, which also envisions a larger water purification plant that would turn effluent water into potable water. At that time, Valley Water estimated that the salt-removal plant would cost $20 million and offered to contribute $16 million toward its cost. The balance would be split between Mountain View, which would contribute 75%, and Palo Alto, which would provide the remaining 25%.

Both the water agency and its partner cities have long touted the benefits of the salt-removal plant, which would allow Palo Alto to expand a recycled-water system that today is largely limited to Shoreline Park and Baylands Golf Links. Now, however, they are also confronting a fresh barrier: costs that have more than doubled since the project was proposed.

According to an estimate from the firm Black & Veatch, which the city commissioned last year to evaluate the cost of the salt-removal plant, the projected construction cost has gone up from $19.5 million in 2017 to $40.5 million today. When other costs, including engineering services and construction management and program management, are factored in, the total cost is estimated at $52.6 million, up from $22.4 million in 2017.

The latest cost projections, which the council plans to discuss on Monday, reflect the "volatility and increases in construction prices since 2017 and the progression of the design from conceptual level to a fuller design that includes elements not initially considered," a new report from the Public Works Department states. This includes changing the design of the facility's foundations and raising electrical equipment in accordance with the city's policy on sea level rise.

The city is anticipating a $12.9 million grant from the federal government to help pay for the project. If the grant comes in, Palo Alto would be on the hook for about $6.2 million, while Mountain View would cover about $18.5 million under the 2019 agreement with Valley Water. With fresh estimates scheduled to come in at the end of this month, both cities plan to evaluate the new figures before moving ahead with construction, according to staff.

A plant to purify water

In addition to planning for the salt-removing facility, Palo Alto is working with Valley Water on a new purification plant that would also occupy the San Antonio site. This project, however, would be financed by Valley Water and operated through public-private partnerships, according to the agency.

The city and the water agency are working on a lease agreement for the site, which would be brought to the council for consideration at a future date.

If approved, the project would involve constructing a purification plant, a pump station and conveyance pipelines that would move local treated wastewater from the Regional Water Quality Control Plant near the Baylands to the San Antonio site, as well as from the site to the Los Gatos Recharge System complex in Campbell.

Valley Water has been planning a new purification plant for years. Last December, the agency's board voted to approve a staff proposal to move ahead with a project on the Palo Alto site. That followed months of discussions with both Palo Alto and San Jose, where Valley Water is hoping to expand the existing Silicon Valley Advanced Water Purification Center.

Kirsten Struve, assistant officer for the water supply division at Valley Water, made the case to the board for moving ahead with choosing the Palo Alto site as the agency issues a "request for proposals" for work on the purification plant. She noted that negotiations with San Jose would likely take some time and cited the urgency of the project, "particularly in the face of the current drought and expected future route."

The board unanimously voted to select Palo Alto, with Chair Tony Estremera lauding the partnership for a new purification plant as a "once in a lifetime, generational achievement."

"These are basically the things that we leave behind," Estremera said at the meeting.

The new purification plant would rely on a process known as reverse osmosis to convert treated wastewater into potable water. Under this process, every 100 gallons of treated wastewater would produce about 85 gallons of purified water. The remaining 15 gallons would consist of "reverse osmosis concentrate" — the brine that gets left behind through the purification process.

Under the current proposal, the reverse osmosis concentrate would be blended with wastewater effluent and discharged into the Bay — the same process that has been used at the San Jose-Santa Clara Regional Wastewater Facility since 2014.

According to Palo Alto staff, the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board would need to approve the discharge permit and may require pretreatment of the reverse osmosis concentrate before it is discharged into the Bay. The staff report notes that Palo Alto will ensure that Valley Water is responsible for the discharge of reverse osmosis concentrate and any associated risks.

Comments

Native to the BAY
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Sep 7, 2022 at 10:36 pm
Native to the BAY, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Sep 7, 2022 at 10:36 pm

Are you kidding ? Black & Leach? Is this a joke??? Taking black (brown) water and leaching salt from it has ballooned in cost in 5 years from 20m to 52M. Price gauging is more like it Or. Must be the run away inflation from climate calamities, Pandemic, housing costs, wage disparities, and Wall Street volatility, and preparing for the big flood. I guess it makes absolute sense that I am paying $5.50 for a 6 pack of stale Top Ramen noodles that sat in a shipping container on the Bay for six months. Wether it’s Wall Street or Wal Mart, or climate — pre pandemic times it was .25 a package! The farthest East Side of San Antonio is where CC voted to push the unhoused and poor and elderly and disabled — Gosh at least we’ll have a gigantic lateen near by. You know, for those uncomfortable bathroom emergencies. I think this is Filseth’s and DuBois’ Egret song (These nest near waste water plants). Yeah those poor people, they can live out there, out of sight, sleep on polluted land, drive to low paying service jobs south. Taking the only mass transit available — a one way freeway entrance that ironically, dumps south of PA . The “potable” waste water (of the 2000 shunned PA border town residents) will also be flushed south of PA and far, far away. Let Mountain View and Los Altos pay for most of the Black & Leach $52M. Impoverished PA is coming in at $6M. I am not saying at all that the City is on the welfare rolls, not at all. But it does feel a little like the City Hall is out there pan handling with a sign, while hitchhiking to Mountain View right on San Antonio using everyone else’s tax dime to get “net zero” while getting a “free” lift in a Tesla! My only question. How will the stink stay south as well??


felix
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 8, 2022 at 7:03 am
felix, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Sep 8, 2022 at 7:03 am

More info would be helpful about the purification plant that the Water Board wants to locate in our Baylands.

Once the water is purified here, it will be piped to Campbell? For what purpose?

What are the negative impacts of pouring the concentrated salty remains from desalination into our Bay and marshland area? To the ecosystem - plant and wildlife, fish, etc.?


Tika Peterson
Registered user
Midtown
on Sep 8, 2022 at 7:03 am
Tika Peterson, Midtown
Registered user
on Sep 8, 2022 at 7:03 am

Is this recycled wastewater safe to drink? I thought our tap water came from Hetch Hetchy.


Paly Grad
Registered user
Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 8, 2022 at 8:18 am
Paly Grad, Leland Manor/Garland Drive
Registered user
on Sep 8, 2022 at 8:18 am

“The purified water would be exported by a new 20-mile pipeline to existing percolation ponds on a 70-acre site in Campbell where it would seep down to recharge the underground water aquifer. Such water is known as indirect potable water, since it would be pumped up from wells before it is treated at a drinking water treatment plant, Kremen said.”

Web Link


Barron Park Denizen
Registered user
Barron Park
on Sep 8, 2022 at 12:43 pm
Barron Park Denizen, Barron Park
Registered user
on Sep 8, 2022 at 12:43 pm

A couple comments:

1. The engineering firm's name is "Black & Veatch," an decades-old and reputable company. Seems someone's spelling correction software got overactive.

2. It's a fair distance from the Palo Alto Wastewater Treatment Plant to the former Los Altos treatment plant site at the north end of San Antonio Road. Even longer is the 20 miles to the Campbell percolation site, or about 100,000 feet long. Even using innovative construction methods, would be $200 or more per foot, all in, by the time construction in this developed area could realistically happen, which quickly gets to $20 million or likely much more, plus the cost of a transmission pumping station and any intermediate pumping. Plus the present worth of power, maintenance, and other operating costs. Guess here is, not happening. Treating the water with reverse osmosis will be the easier part, if the brine concentrate disposal is OK'd by the Regional Water Quality Control Board.


Barron Park Denizen
Registered user
Barron Park
on Sep 8, 2022 at 12:53 pm
Barron Park Denizen, Barron Park
Registered user
on Sep 8, 2022 at 12:53 pm

Rather than pumping this recycled water flow all the way to Campbell for indirect reuse, when that and other options are found not to pencil out, eventually we in north Santa Clara County will be "asked" to drink it directly as a supplemental source to the local potable water systems. Valley Water may be accustoming the citizenry to this eventuality, gradually countering what is known technically as the "ick factor." The highly-treated wastewater can be treated sufficiently to blend it into our fabulous Hetch Hetchy water, and the permitting authorities will get used to the idea as water shortages develop. But even given the probable technical feasibility, Valley Water should be straight with people about where we are likely heading.


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