There’s a big problem with the San Jose/Santa Clara Water Pollution Control Plant. It stinks.
When it was built, in 1956, it may have been state of the art. But times have changed since then, and so has the Bay Area population that the plant serves. There are also more advances in techniques than simply removing solid waste from waste water and letting it dry in the sun in outdoor lagoons. The slightest breeze sends the scent wafting across the neighborhood. In our home bathrooms, we have air freshener and Febreze. At the Water Pollution Control Plant, it’s just Mother Nature.
The plant claims that it processes 110 million gallons of wastewater every day. While that number seems a bit high—it comes to 1 million gallons for every man woman and child in San Jose—there are days when it certainly smells like that number is accurate.
Fixing the process now could cost as much as a quarter of a billion dollars. This April, City Council will vote on a larger, $1 billion master plan to renovate the entire complex—over the course of 30 years. That isn’t soon enough for local residents and businesses. Property values—and resultant property taxes—have dropped, and people are unable to even sell their properties.
Locals have long advocated that the city work more quickly to freshen their air. They are not getting much sympathy, In December, Mayor Chuck Reed, along with Vice Mayor Madison Nguyen and Councilmember Kansen Chu, recognized that there was a problem, but wrote a memo suggesting that “staff should determine if the plant is the source of the odors.” Still, the residents and the lobbyists they have hired, think this is a step in the right direction. In 2008, officials didn’t even recognize the odor as a problem.
Now that the city recognizes the problem, the question is: what they are willing—and able—to pay to fix it?