Presentation by Dwayne Smith, Director of Engineering and Capital Projects – Existing Sewer Capacities and Planned Capital Improvements

I watched Dwayne Smith’s Utility and Engineering presentation to the Planning Commission last Tuesday (April 2. https://www.washoecounty.us/csd/planning_and_development/board_commission/planning_commission/2019/Files/2019-04-02/Washoe%20County%20Utility%20Presentation.pdf  Washoe County Utility Presentation).   Presumably, this vacuous “overview” covers what the Department thinks is adequate to account for the planned expenditures to be covered by the $50 million sewer bond. Overall I found the presentation to be incredibly elementary and it did nothing to address the technical aspects of the County Engineer’s sewer management, engineering, management conceptual planning – ie, what are the projected costs, in particular cost per acre/feet, gallon or liter of sewage treated and disposed. My comments and questions:

Dwayne mentioned adding groundwater injection as an effluent disposal option in the North Valleys.  He also mentioned, in a different segment of his talk, a description of playas having no outside water discharge and generally large clay layers which preclude infiltration of surface water into the ground.  If they do decide sometime in the future to add injection strategies in the North Valleys and Verdi, which “aquifer” would be utilized? Playas have insufficient aquifer storage capacities (by his own admission during his presentation!).   Along that line, how much money do they plan to contribute to the current aquifer injection pilot work being done by TMWA, and is this part of the $50 million bond?

It is surprising that nobody on the Board asked about the differences in treatment costs for Class A+, A, B, and C water.   Dwayne said they plan to go to Class A+ water effluent throughout the county.  What will that cost, as opposed to Class A?  What is the price difference, per gallon of treatment, between Class A and A+?   Would this be worth the cost? The chart below shows the required treatment levels for each effluent planned use. Will they be over-treating some effluent at taxpayer expense, just to say it’s all going to be A+?

Minimum Reclaimed Water Quality Requirements for Direct Reuse

 Reuse Type Minimum Class of Reclaimed  Water Required
Irrigation of food crops A
Recreational impoundments A
Residential landscape irrigation A
Schoolground landscape irrigation A
Open access landscape irrigation A
Toilet and urinal flushing A
Fire protection systems A
Spray irrigation of an orchard or vineyard A
Commercial closed loop air conditioning systems A
Vehicle and equipment washing (does not include self- service vehicle washes) A
Snowmaking A
Surface irrigation of an orchard or vineyard B
Golf course irrigation B
Restricted access landscape irrigation B
Landscape impoundment B
Dust control B
Soil compaction and similar construction activities B
Pasture for milking animals B
Livestock watering (dairy animals) B
Concrete and cement mixing B
Materials washing and sieving B
Street cleaning B
Pasture for non-dairy animals C
Livestock watering (non-dairy animals) C
Irrigation of sod farms C
Irrigation of fiber, seed, forage, and similar crops C
Silviculture C

At Minute 57 of his talk, Dwayne launched into a discussion of the Planner’s criteria for development and how hard they work to assess impacts of development and determine mitigation needs for each development.  This WOULD have been a perfect seque into the need for more critical technical review of engineering documents provided by developers!   I’m disappointed that the planning commissioners who were present didn’t pick up on this.  Nobody asked what the criteria were, particularly with regard to water use and sewerage evaluation.

About 8 minutes later, Dwayne invited the PC to come visit the Planning Department and observe for themselves how the planners review, critique and evaluate tentative maps and project plans and how the permitting process works.  This would have been another good place to segue to a query of the engineering report review process and whether the Planning Department has the appropriate expertise to review the sewerage/water aspects.

The Planners should provide ballpark costs for water treatment to Class A B C standards.

Every week Lemmon Valley residents stand up to ask over and over why the water keeps rising and why the County can’t do anything about it.  The answer is “Water Balance Modeling”.   I have no idea if the esteemed hydrologists at the County (or TMWA) have revised their modeling inputs for Washoe County, and Lemmon Valley in particular for the 2018-19 winter and spring runoff, but when the model inputs are broken down into their most simple form, it becomes obvious why there’s a problem, and why this issue won’t go away unless we have another 4 year drought….

It may benefit Dwayne Smith to present to the PC and BCC a simplified water balance discussion.   We should frame some questions for the Lemmon Valley STPs, and others around the model inputs, how they are identified, measured and revised as necessary to accommodate changes in precipitation and increase in effluent as development increases.

Taking effluent quality standards to Class A+ might at least protect residents from tainted water, but at what cost?   Wouldn’t it be cheaper to treat to class C or B then revise discharge locations to avoid health and safety issues?   I think it’s going to mean that basin-to-basin pumping is going to have to be an option, eventually, in the North Valleys.

But here’s another possibility. Could it be that, in planning for all future Washoe County effluent be treated to Class A+, the County wants to make some money?   Class A+ water can be SOLD as drinking water! Is this worth it, considering there are plenty of water use options, as listed in the table above, that don’t require A+ effluent water standards?    Why else would Dwayne be pushing (REALLY pushing, he mentioned upgrading to A+ water standards several times in his presentation)?   How much, per gallon or acre/ft will it cost to get to A+?   And is it worth it to us taxpayers if we are all satisfied with the treated water use options listed below?

The other thing that strikes me – South Valleys STP is already treating to A/A+ quality. So if that water is going to golf course and landscape irrigation, then we are paying for overkill.  Only B and C water is required for MOST of the effluent uses Dwayne mentions in his presentation.   This could be an absurdity, depending on the cost basis for this  A+ effluent treatment.

We should be allowed the opportunity to VOTE on this perhaps unnecessary treatment standard!   So they make money back by selling it – to whom?  At what price?  And who gets to keep the money?   How does this profit get put back into the coffers?

6 thoughts on “Presentation by Dwayne Smith, Director of Engineering and Capital Projects – Existing Sewer Capacities and Planned Capital Improvements

  1. Wow. Kris
    The more and more I see and hear of the mis administration and plans for management of our land and water and wastewater resources in this county I feel that our leaders are destroying our quality of existence here.

    You also referred to the reinjection of groundwater through our TMWA wells here in south county. I believe that is occurring in the wells throughout Callahan ranch or at least to some of them. Is this the case?
    I am unclear as to what water is being used for residents use now who are not on private wells. Is water being pumped from water treatment plants yet from Truckee river water or if not when and is that projected?
    I don’t feel that I have the information about where our drinking water is coming from through TMWA. Do you know where to find this information or have it?
    I know that I am not alone in being in the dark about some of these things.
    Thank you Kris for being so involved and acting as an advocate in there monitoring proceedings.
    I wonder if there are other means of getting information out to more residents.
    Does Nextdoor Neighbor site restrict discussing this information?

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    • Hi Janis! I can’t answer some of your questions… it’s what’s behind the curtain of the County Engineers and TMWA. I know that injection wells have been installed at Arrowcreek and as of last fall, they are still in the pilot stage, awaiting permitting and approval for use in injecting treated effluent. Dwayne mentioned in his presentation that injection wells are being considered for use in the North Valleys, in aquifers that have yet to be identified and characterized. To be injected for future use as drinking water, effluent must be treated to A+ standards.
      TMWA does extract groundwater from the Mount Rose Aquifer here in Callahan Ranch. And you may already know that the new Mount Rose Water Treatment Plant is under construction on the north side of Mt. Rose Highway at Callahan. TMWA has provided some detail on water treatment volumes and capacities on their website, but otherwise we remain unaware of whether there will be enough capacity for the barrage of development already occurring in Washoe County, and all the development that has been approved but not yet started. I don’t know about you, but I don’t relish the thought of having to drink A+ treated effluent. Even with water quality standards being met, the water will have a slightly different chemistry.
      We existing residents should be given the right to vote on this $50 million sewer bond and we should have more technical details on how it will be spent and when! What’s behind the curtain, County Engineers?

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  2. I too feel we should have the right to vote on this. Lot’s questions to be answered still. And, where is this $$ coming from? Is this going to help take care of the immediate problems? We in the North Valleys are just as important as all other residential areas, but it seems that we ate always on the back burner. It was great to see the speedy fix to the water over the road on Lemmon Dr yesterday, but the whole problem should NEVER have happened to over building and lack of realizing what was going to happen in the future.

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  3. This whole thing implies good water management, our communities haven’t had that pleasure. A+ is the answer, as well as infrastructure to support the management.

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    • Yes, that is a given. As the county grows, we will need to rely on treated water to supply domestic needs as available meteoric water disappears. But be careful what we wish for! I have worked overseas on jobs where treated water was used for domestic purposes at the worker camps (in the Sahara and Kyzylkum Deserts). In both cases the water was A+ standard but geez did it taste bad! And it left a slight mineral coating on clothes, skin and hair. It was the higher sulfate/mineral content. A+ water has a slightly different chemistry than meteoric water (Wikipedia definition -Meteoric water is the water derived from precipitation (snow and rain). This includes water from lakes, rivers, and icemelts, which all originate from precipitation indirectly. This includes water from lakes, rivers, and icemelts, which all originate from precipitation indirectly.). In essence, meteoric water is that water which has NOT yet been utilized by man for industrial or domestic purposes and has not been subject to any chemical alteration, other than from natural sources (acid rain and other pollution excepted). I personally, am not excited about the prospect of having to drink and wash with A+ water again, unless absolutely necessary. That’s why I want to see us all ask the tough questions of the County engineers. If we have to pay for this new direction in sewage treatment technology and effluent reuse, let’s PLEASE GET IT RIGHT! And make the developers pay their share!

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