It's estimated that it will cost $14 billion to clean up the untreated wastewater that was accidentally dumped into San Francisco Bay when treatment facilities were taxed beyond capacity. The result was toxic algae that bloomed in a heatwave, killing thousands of fish and giving bathers skin rashes.
San Francisco means a lot of things to different people. Celebrated in song and film, it's renowned for its beauty. It's also famed as the hub of the hi-tech world, a nexus for innovation and progressive ideas such as environmental conservation. That image was challenged when some of the Bay Area's 8-million residents Tweeted jaw-dropping photos of feces discharge that caused toxic algae bloom. Not only were thousands of fish killed, but also residents and tourists were advised to avoid water sports during peak demand of the summer season. Contact with the water caused weird skin rashes in members of the public. Although California officials claimed it posed no threat to human life, who would want to swim in water that killed all the fish?
It's a bitter irony that population of one of the most tech-savvy areas on the ground is blissfully ignorant of what happens below ground. Who would believe that in one of the most environmentally aware American states lies a city jewel crippled by "poop and pee," as the local press described it?
San Francisco has an out-of-date, 20th-century combined sewer system that processes wastewater with floodwater and industrial water. As a result, it's easy for the system to break down when it is overly taxed. The toxic algae outbreak was not the first threat to the Bay. East Bay Municipal Utility District was fined $816,000 after its treatment plant failed during winter rains, causing the discharge of 16.5 million gallons of partially treated wastewater.
San Francisco is only one example of the crumbling infrastructure in all 50 states. America lags behind many industrialized countries in its safe treatment and disposal of wastewater. While the solution is expensive, it pales in expense to doing nothing, allowing the problem to grow faster than toxic algae in a heatwave. It's not feasible to tear out all the old infrastructure, but it's in desperate need of an upgrade. One simple way is to install digital monitoring in field assets to receive real-time data that lead to better decisions and forward planning.
You know the current situation is unsustainable, but what can you do about it?
Start by downloading our info on combined sewer overflow.