They used to call California ocean desalination a disaster. But water crisis brings new look to state’s wastewater processing plants
The first time I visited the state Department of Water Resources’ (DWR) Alameda County Wastewater Treatment Plant, I had a feeling of déjà vu. The plant, a sprawling concrete structure on a dry hillside in Oakland, was built in the late 1990s as a response to a water scarcity crisis.
By the time I arrived, the facility’s six towers and a sewage treatment plant were empty and surrounded by weeds. Its once gleaming surfaces were now covered in rust. The state had shut the plant down last year because of high wastewater volume from rising water demand as the state’s population grew. Now, a few days later, water is flowing again, but I couldn’t quite believe it.
This is the facility I was visiting for a piece I wrote for a magazine called The California Current. When I went there months earlier, the plant was in the midst of a $3 million project to overhaul the plant’s aging treatment facility and install a modern water treatment plant, which was supposed to bring the plant online again in the fall.
The project was supposed to be a victory for the DWR, which was being directed by a new state-appointed director, Ed Reiskin. He and his team had the power to restore services at this troubled plant and, if all went according to plan, allow the plant to start processing wastewater again.
But now, the state’s water chief says that the state might not be able to pay for the new plant. In many places, high water prices are leaving the state unable to repay projects with billions of dollars in debt.
“It has been a tough few months,” says Reiskin. “I don’t know how we are going to make that work any longer.”
Reiskin has not returned a call for comment sent by the