Poop happens

Jeff vonKaenel

Apparently, a whole lot of poop happens right here in River City. So much pooping is going on that the leftover ammonia from all of those trips to the bathroom has severely impacted the water quality in the Delta. Or has it?

When it comes to the Delta and the liquids going in, or the water allowed to flow out, there’s a lot of confusion. But, at the same time, there are some areas of agreement.

Most people agree that the Delta is a natural treasure. Most people agree that the Delta’s water is critical for the state. And we all know the Delta is in serious trouble. Decreasing water flow is causing seawater penetration. Invasive species are taking over. Large quantities of water are being removed for Central Valley farming interests. And finally, the issue of the moment: Sacramento’s wastewater treatment process is not removing ammonia from its discharge.

Sacramento’s wastewater plant is responsible for 60 percent of the wastewater that goes into the Delta. Since most of the other municipal wastewater plants in this region have installed or are in the process of installing water-treatment systems to remove ammonia, Sacramento contributes the majority of the ammonia found in the Delta. According to scientists, who admittedly will not be paying the estimated $2 billion required to fix this problem, ammonia and its close relations are wiping out the algae and other fish food that belongs in the river. And without algae, the fish may not be around much longer, either.

On its website and in a mailer sent out to 400,000 Sacramento residents, the Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District argues that ammonia is not the problem, but rather the large water releases to farmers in the Central Valley. They say that the issue needs more study. Frankly, this argument is an embarrassment and distorts the public discussion instead of improving it.

I agree that correcting the ammonia problem could be expensive. So could the destruction of the Delta. I also agree that other factors contribute to the ruin of the Delta. Water flowing to Southern California, farm releases, invasive species and incorrect pumping are likely hurting the fragile Delta. But this does not excuse the damage that ammonia is doing to that ecosystem. And, looking into the future, what impact will Sacramento’s expected population growth have on the Delta? I assume our new neighborhoods are planning to hook up to the city’s sewers.

As of last Friday, making the upgrades became a de facto requirement of state and federal law. Rather than rallying the forces to appeal it, the district should proceed with the upgrades. This is a serious issue, and we are not served by our public agency engaging in an expensive one-sided campaign. Poop happens. Politics happen. But we deserve better.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.