Frank Klopp: Some history and advice on wastewater treatment

First there were the Native American Indians. They lived on the hill north of Seventh Street and east of the freeway; don’t know what they did for waste disposal. Then came the city founders; they used outhouses and compost privies.

The settlement became Arcata and the city elders installed sewer collector lines to Arcata Bay. Two interesting items from that early work are 2-foot x 6-inch clay lines, some still in use, another was flushing manholes that worked just like a toilet. When they filled with water, the trap opened and the sewage flowed into Arcata Bay. No wonder Arcata has so much inflow into the old part of town. The early system was designed with both sewage and drainage.

In the 1950s, the oxidation pond was constructed. One statement I found was that the pond was to be constructed as large as possible.  The south end of the pond went to fill for a trestle that had been used for tracks hauling rocks to the bay entrance. The west side was Jolly Giant Slough. Two important wastewater (sewage) features of the oxidation pond was an aeration pond and a settling pond for pre-treatment of wastewater.

In the late 1950s, the city built the first clarifier and digester. Later, a second digester was added.

In 1970, the Humboldt Bay area formed the Humboldt Bay Wastewater Authority (HBWA), with a plan to construct wastewater collection lines on both sides of the Arcata Bay, then from Eureka, under the bay to a wastewater treatment plant on the Samoa  Peninsula. This plant had a bypass system for the storm water that used dilution to meet the wastewater standards.

The City of Arcata made a strong effort to stop the HBWA plan but as the state said, an ocean discharge worked in San Diego so it will work for Eureka-Arcata.

HBWA was moving along smoothly until the City of Arcata received a financial estimate that stated that even though the city had doubled the wastewater rate, they would have to double the rate again.

At which time I (Franklin Klopp, public works director) met with Roger Story, city manager;  Dan Hauser, mayor; Sam Penninsi, councilmember; and stated, “This is going to cost a lot of money and we should try to get out of HBWA one more time.”

So, with George Allen Ph.d raising fish in the oxidation pond, Robert Gearheart Ph.d teaching Environmental Engineering at Humboldt State, Councilman Dan Hauser being Arcata’s board member of HBWA, as well as many local participants, they proceeded to get HBWA dissolved. The Arcata Marsh and Wildlife design alternative was created after;

1. Dr. Gearheart introduced Arcata to the Mountain View Sanctuary District which was using a marsh to treatment wastewater and

2. Dr. Allen said a “C” student asked, “Why not use the Sanitary Landfill Dump as a marsh?”

In 1981 or 1982 the current system was constructed, but the marsh was not part of the treatment system. The Arcata Marsh and Wildlife System was not accepted as part of the wastewater treatment process until 2015.

Which brings us to 2017 and $20 million*, which is a lot of money, and also with some alternative options available as in 1978.

The first is that the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary was not constructed for wastewater treatment, but to meet the Bay and Estuary Policy (another long story). With improved circulation, adding baffels in all three marshes, Dr. Allen, Dr. Gearheart and Mr. Hauser;  circulation, retention, water quality and the state’s discharge requirements will be met.

The improvements in 1983 had a design flaw, the City of Arcata constructed a pump station on First and G streets to reduce the flooding in Sunny Brae. For 35-plus years, the effluent from that pump station has flown directly to the oxidation pond with no pre-treatment. My suggestion is to take the First Street effluent to an aeration ditch for pre-treatment similar to the initial design of the oxidation pond and use Pond One as a settling pond, as was the initial design. The new expensive proposal is the opposite design, with retention first, then aeration.

The proposal in the Facility Plan Update calls for an oxidation ditch for all effluent when, in fact, an oxidation ditch for the First Street Pump Station sewerage may be all that is required. The design could be an aeration pond with baffels in pond one.

The last point is Dr. George Allen raised salmon and trout in the oxidation pond water by mixing the wastewater with bay salt water. The mixing caused the ammonia to become ammonium gas. For a number of years Arcata had a constant flow of marsh water through a fish tank. The amonia reduction requirement by the state is not necessary as can be proven from past studies.

Franklin R. Klopp is a retired City of Arcata public works director and co-founder of the Arcata Maarsh and Wildlife Sanctuary.

  • Note: Due to an editing error, this figure was misstated in an earlier version. – Ed.


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