Environmental upgrade for South Bay sewage plant

A big environmental upgrade is underway for how sewage in South Bay will be treated in the future.

On Tuesday local leaders broke ground a project that will move treated sewage from the outdoors near the shoreline of the Bay to an indoor facility.

Right now huge ponds off Zanker Road in north San Jose contain years worth of treated sewage. The ponds are where sludge is "de-watered" – where the water content simply evaporates and then what’s left over is used at a nearby landfill as a dirt covering.

"It is a pretty complex process in 175 acres to treat the material but we are all thankful we have it otherwise there would be raw sewage in the Bay every day,"said Kerrie Romanow, San Jose’s environmental services director.

The days of those big drying ponds are numbered.

Ground has been broken new facility which will speed up this process and move it entirely indoors.

"What this process will do is that liquid material will come to the de-watering facility and will be dried and move off site in a day or two," Romanow said.

The new facility will cost $164 million dollars and will catch the South Bay regional plant up with what many other cities are already doing.

Moving the process indoors should help cut down on some of the odors which can be detected in Milpitas, Alviso and other areas of north San Jose depending on wind and other environmental conditions.

"That will allow us to restore that land to its natural landscape, clean it up over time, and prevent odors that emanate from that facility and waft into the cities around it," said San Jose City Council member David Cohen who represents the area.

The existing ponds, which cover 750-acres, will be combined, covered, and then returned to alternative uses – including wetlands. "It will allow us to restore some natural habitat. We have endangered burrowing owls in this area and other wildlife can use it," Cohen said.

When the new indoor facility comes online, expected in 2025, the resulting dried sludge is expected to be trucked away possibly to farmlands in the Central Valley to be used as fertilizer.

The wastewater treatment plant treats over 100 million gallons of wastewater every day from 1.4 million residents. It serves San Jose, Santa Clara, Milpitas, Campbell, Cupertino, Los Gatos, Saratoga and Monte Sereno.