Our customers have questions about EchoWater. Here, we try to answer some of them.
What is the regulatory mandate driving these rate increases?
Under federal and state law, wastewater treatment agencies like
ours must comply with a wastewater discharge permit in order to
release treated wastewater back into the environment. These
permits are essentially a detailed and complex set of operating
conditions, completely unique to each treatment facility.
In our region, this discharge permit is issued by the Central Valley Regional
Water Quality Control Board (Regional Water Board), one of
many regional state agencies that set and enforce standards to
protect California’s waters. Our
latest permit, issued in December 2010, includes strict new
mandates that require a major investment—about $1.5–2.1
billion—in new treatment technologies. Regulators cite the
Delta’s ongoing environmental decline and the need to protect
recreational and municipal uses of the Sacramento River as the
reasons for these strict new limits.
How much will rates go up to pay for the new treatment upgrades?
Residential rates are expected to increase gradually each year
from the current rate
to the high $30s by 2021–2023. Industrial and
commercial rates and fees will increase, as well.
Regional San will continue to refine rate and fee projections for
funding the construction and operation of the EchoWater project.
These projections are based on detailed and updated cost
estimates of the selected treatment upgrades, debt financing
methods, external funding assistance, and other factors.
Who is the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board?
Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board (Regional Water
Board) is a state agency charged with enforcing the Clean Water
Act to protect California’s waters. The Regional Water Board’s
members are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the State
Senate. The Regional Water Board is one of many similar regional
state agencies that set and enforce standards, which vary based
on the operating conditions of each facility.
Why is Regional San’s permit so strict?
Our region is upstream from the Delta, which is a major source of
California’s water supply—both for people and agriculture. With
the Delta in environmental distress from a wide range of causes,
scrutiny on any potential impact to the Delta has intensified.
The Regional Water Board has concluded that mandating a much
higher level of treatment for our discharge will ultimately
benefit the Delta.
What will the EchoWater processes do?
The new treatment upgrades will be designed to remove nearly all
the ammonia, nitrates and pathogens from our treated wastewater.
A “biological nutrient removal” process will eliminate nearly all
ammonia and most nitrate, while new filtration equipment will
help remove smaller particles and more pathogens
(bacteria/viruses) from the effluent, as compared with the
existing treatment process. Enhanced disinfection will also be
implemented to inactivate pathogens that may remain even after
What are the various projects making up EchoWater?
Take a look here
to see the many different projects that will be under
construction from now through 2021–2023.
Why do ratepayers have to foot the bill for EchoWater?
Because Regional San is funded entirely by its customers, the
EchoWater upgrades to the treatment plant will need to be paid
for by gradually increasing monthly rates (for existing
customers) and impact fees (for new users connecting to the
system). We understand and empathize with our customers who will
shoulder the burden of these costs—nobody wants to see rates go
up, but there is simply no choice if we are to comply with the
new regulations. (For qualified low-income customers, rate
savings are available through our Sewer Lifeline Rate Assistance
What has Regional San done to help protect the environment?
Protecting the environment is a vital part of our mission. For
more than three decades, we’ve been trusted to protect people,
plants, animals, and aquatic life throughout the region. During
this time, our Treatment Plant has boasted an exceptional record
of meeting water quality standards. But our commitment to the
environment and public health goes far beyond regulatory
We also recycle water to irrigate
schools and parks. We produce high-quality biosolids to serve as fertilizer. We
conserve wetlands, renew woodlands and grasslands, and protect
hundreds of acres of habitat in the Bufferlands surrounding our Treatment Plant.
We even recycle methane gas, a
byproduct of the treatment process, by converting it into
We’ve also invested millions of dollars in water quality
research, and we continue to advocate and support high-quality
scientific research. We monitor pollutant conditions in the
Sacramento River, and we’ve brought people together in programs
that help improve the health of the Sacramento River watershed. Finally,
we’ve been working very closely with other agencies to advance
the science and discover how best to address the Delta’s decline.
What is Regional San doing to comply with the mandates?
We are moving forward aggressively with the EchoWater Project to
make sure we meet the compliance schedule, which requires the
upgrades be operational by 2021-2023. Initially, to test a number
of advanced technologies and help narrow down the most effective
and lowest-cost solutions, we developed a small-scale pilot
project. This pilot effort has helped us evaluate and
select the potential methods that will best address the new
requirements for ammonia and nitrate removal, filtration and
Our pilot testing was effective in showing that some of the lower
cost-technologies we evaluated will perform well enough to meet
the strict new standards. This could bring potential savings of
several hundred million dollars in costs for building the
full-scale project when compared to our original cost estimates.
How is the project being managed?
One of the key initial tasks after the permit was issued was to
develop an effective program management structure for the
project. Regional San hired a top-qualified team of consultants
to support our staff in overseeing the project and making sure
the new facilities are developed in a cost-effective manner while
also meeting permit and schedule requirements.
The EchoWater Program Management Office is also charged with
providing oversight and carefully reviewing the work of other
specialists hired to tackle the many complex tasks during
planning, design and construction.
What was learned during the pilot studies?
To plan the full-scale plant improvements, the EchoWater team
conducted detailed pilot testing. A small-scale “pilot project”
was built next to the existing treatment plant to study and test
various treatment methods and alternatives to help identify the
treatment technology that is the most feasible, cost-effective
and efficient for the full-scale treatment solution.
During pilot studies, identifying and testing the most viable
treatment trains (the combination of components that make up a
wastewater treatment system) was an essential step in confirming
the technologies will perform as anticipated. The treatment
trains tested during pilot activities included an air activated
sludge process followed by granular media filtration or membrane
filtration, then either chlorine, ultraviolet light or ozone for
The pilot study identified the following preferred technologies
for the full-scale project:
A combined ammonia and nitrate removal process, referred to
as biological nutrient removal (BNR)
Granular media filtration (GMF)
Liquid chlorine disinfection
How will Regional San keep project costs as low as possible?
The pilot study resulted in Regional San identifying lower cost
technologies for the full-scale project, potentially saving
several hundred million dollars in project costs compared to
those originally estimated. The reduced costs attributable to
technology confirmation by the pilot study are in the following
Filtration: Choosing granular media filtration over the more
expensive membrane filtration.
Disinfection: Choosing liquid chemical disinfection over
ultraviolet (UV) or ozone processes.
During development of a major capital project like EchoWater, key
decisions made in the future will affect the overall
cost of the project. Because choices regarding equipment,
materials and methods of construction and operation will
ultimately impact our ratepayers, it is extremely important that
we select the most cost-effective solutions. With that in mind,
the EchoWater team will constantly look for opportunities to
reduce project costs while ensuring strict compliance with permit
A variety of techniques will be used to control costs during
design and construction. For example, Reliability Centered Design
methods will help us design the appropriate size and number of
facilities, featuring only reliable components that are easy (and
thus less costly) to maintain. We’ll also use a Business Case
Evaluation framework to evaluate alternative solutions based on
significant life cycle cost, risk and facility performance
considerations. That will give us a clear picture over the long
haul of future operations, not just for initial construction.
The bottom line is that our continual efforts to ensure
cost-effective design and construction will bring better value
for our ratepayers.
How will the project be financed?
In April 2015, Regional San was approved to receive nearly $1.6
billion in low-interest financing from the State of California’s
Clean Water State Revolving Fund. This is the largest single
block of financing ever issued to a project under the California
Clean Water State Revolving Fund program. This unique financing
approach will reduce the long-term EchoWater Project financing
costs through favorable terms for interest rate and loan term –
saving at least a half billion dollars over the life of the loan
compared to traditional bond funding.
How will Regional San keep customers informed?
We are committed to communicating with all of our customers about
the EchoWater Project during the course of the project. To ensure
there are no surprises, we are using a variety of outreach and
communication methods as we strive to keep you informed every
step of the way. For example, this website is updated
periodically with news and developments, and we also mail
newsletters or notices to keep our ratepayers informed. Billboard
ads and radio spots are being used to drive people to the website
to learn more about why the EchoWater Project is being built.