Skip to content

$900M, the need for stormwater management and new customers

Just hours before another atmospheric river batters down on Northern California, the Redwood City Council on Monday listened to city officials report on the long-term planning for the city's water, sewer and storm drain utilities. 

The update came from City Manager Melissa Stevenson Diaz and Public Works Director Terence Kyaw.

The Breakdown

Redwood City receives water from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, specifically, Hetch Hetchy Reservoir through the Tuolumne River. But if this resource were to strain in years of drought due to climate change, Redwood City has an alternative source of water, recycled water, according to the Public Works Department.

Public Works Director Terence Kyaw reads from his computer screen about the construction projects that are near completion. Photo by Sebastian Miño-Bucheli

In the past years, there’s been improvement in the water infrastructure, such as replacing roughly 10 miles of old water pipes, retrofitting eight storage tanks for seismic activity, and adding 750,000 gallons of storage and fire protection and reinforcing water pipes on Redwood Shores bridges.

One big question came from Council member Kaia Eakin. 

An upcoming project could cost the city upwards of $900 million for the ongoing reconstruction of a sewage treatment plant that serves more than just Redwood City. The city is obligated to pay 50% of that cost, according to a city staff memo. 

Redwood City is part of a four-member joint point agency with the city of San Carlos, Belmont and West Bay Sanitary Sewer District but borrows 48% of the membership.

"Is that because the sewage treatment plant serves more than just Redwood City, is that right," said Eakin.

“Our JPA is looking to get a reliable conveyance system to carry all the sewage from the full member agency and without interrupting the community,” said Kyaw. “The best approach is to create a tunnel under the almost like the Redwood Shore parkway near to the Holly Street intersection all the way down to the sewer treatment plan.”

The plan includes a deep tunnel and a detention tank to hold water and stormwater.

Storm Drainage

While Redwood City continues to be hit by rain this winter season, stormwater will filter into the sewage system. The stormwater is valuable, according to the city, but it will have to be cleaned or be lost to the Bay.

“Stormwater Management is a general fund program in which a majority of the work comes from maintaining the section of the Redwood Creek and all the pump stations throughout the city,” Kyaw said.“We have 17 stormwater pump stations, and then those pump stations are pumping stormwater up from the city into the Bay.”

Redwood City Council is addressing this as part of the joint power agency and OneShoreline, an independent government agency that works with several cities to build solutions against climate change. Aguirre said she wants to get money for stormwater infrastructure because costs are rising.

“Everything in the wastewater treatment and stormwater has become expensive with inflation," said Council member Alicia Aguirre, who also serves as the chair of the City/County Association of Governments of San Mateo County. “Whether it's chemicals, whether it's stuff that we have to import to be able to do the infrastructure.”

Possible New Clients

During the end of the presentation, there was a moment to ask questions to Director Kyaw about the potential of future customers and purple pipes, the recycled water system.

“There are two types of customers that we continuously look for," said Kyaw. “ No. 1 is irrigation customers because those are the low-hanging fruits.”

The second types are the Indoor-to-Plant, which is a majority of homes built in the City that need waterline extensions built. But probably the biggest bombshell came from Recycled Water Superintendent Sindy Mulyono-Danre revealed that Bristol-Myers Squibb, the pharmaceutical industry, is a potential customer for recycled water as soon as they figure out their plans. That alone is going to cost from $500–$850,000. 

Aguirre said she remembered the public’s fear when the Recycled Water plant was completed in 2010.

“That's why we talked about people coming up and drinking the water once it was recycled,” Aguirre said.“So then, with the drought (recycled water), it became a commodity, right?”

Councilmember Alicia C. Aguirre asks a question during the staff report on city water, sewer and storm drain utilities on March 13, 2023. Photo by Sebastian Miño-Bucheli

During the early days of the drought, Aguirre said requests came quickly from homeowners associations and Menlo Country Club. Other sites include Oracle, Electronic Arts, HOAs, Redwood City Police Station, Port of Redwood City and SIMS Metal, which have used recycled water since Phase I in 2010.

Stretching Funds

“Just since October, we have sought nearly $40 million in grants for a wide variety of projects and initiatives,” said Stevenson Diaz. “That's one of our key strategies for trying to stretch our public funds.”

push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks