City of Berkeley Sewer System History


City of Berkeley Sewer System History
Source: City of Berkeley, 1989

Berkeley began losing its rural character soon after the transcontinental railroad was completed in the 1860's. By 1869 an East Bay engineering study called for building sewage disposal systems to serve the urbanizing City of Berkeley.

The City's first sewer lines were constructed around 1885 and main trunk lines added in 1913. Hundred-year old engineering notes record the original survey for the sewers on Martin Luther King Jr. Way (formerly Grove Street, known as Sherman Street in 1888). Major sewer extensions occurred in 1928 and 1929. Bond issues in 1913 and 1928 brought Berkeley's public sewer system investments up to $1.3 million. In addition, private developers built the sewers for large areas of the developing city whose population doubled between 1910 and 1928.

Most early sewers were designed to carry both stormwater and sanitary sewer flows in the same pipeline. Sewage was not treated but discharged directly into San Francisco Bay from outfalls at Potter Street, University Avenue, Virginia Street, Gilman Street, and Marin Avenue at Fleming Point. In 1928, a City Engineer's report blamed the spouting manholes, common during wet weather, on the existing combination of "leaky joints, leaky manholes,.., with roof leader and street gutter connections." In 1951, the City required disconnection of roof drains, basement and yard drains from sewer laterals.

When the San Francisco Bay Bridge opened in 1936, public outcry demanded attention to the stench of raw sewage on the near shore mudflats and shoreline. In 1945, plans were made for the East Bay Municipal Utility District regional wastewater treatment plant. The District's new shoreline interceptor and regional sewage treatment plant gave impetus to separating the sanitary sewer system to alleviate the wet weather problem; and by 1961, all the sewers were separated.

However, despite the separation of storm drains from the sanitary sewers, wet weather overflows and high flow at the new regional treatment facility persisted. Numerous studies conducted by EBMUD and individual cities identified the need for a regional approach to solve wet weather problems. In response to these studies and regulatory agency requirements, the seven East Bay communities (Alameda. Albany, Berkeley, Emeryville, Oakland, Piedmont, and the Stege Sanitary District, serving El Cerrito, Kensington, and part of Richmond) organized a Joint Powers Authority in 1979 to carry out a Clean Water Act grant-funded study of wet weather problems with EBMUD  serving as lead agency.

The study found that Berkeley's old sewer system works well during dry weather. However, during wet weather, overflows occur because the old, lealy, broken pipes allow stormwater to infiltrate and overload the wastewater system. Although the infiltration/ inflow (I/I) problem has been a concern since 1928, the comprehensive, coordinated study was needed to measure and pinpoint the problems.

During intense brief storms, flow call swell to 20 times the dry weather amount. During mid-winter, more than 18% of rain falling in Berkeley gets into the sanitary sewer system. In some areas, more than 50% of the rainfall leaks into Berkeley's deteriorated sewer system and causes overflows of diluted sewage throughout the area, eventually ending up in the Bay. Overflow problems have been most visible to the public in along Hopkins Street, Shattuck Avenue, Woolsey Street, and Ashby Avenue.

Early construction techniques, though "state-of-the-art” at the time, used less durable materials, with weak joints and inadequate bedding. These lower standards and absence of inspection requirements, along with extensive piecemeal, private development, have contributed to today's deteriorated, leaking sewer system.


sewer / storm installation in BerkeleyBerkeley's sewer lines in some areas are more than 100 years of age and many sewers are at the end of their useful life. The work done long ago to separate the system was a step toward a better system. However, repairs are needed to maintain service and rehabilitate the system.

Berkeley's long-range sewer improvement program will rehabilitate approximately 33% of the sewer system and will increase wet weather capacity with 12 miles of new relief sewers. This will reduce I/I in 60% of the City's geographical area. Whenever possible, the sewer work is being coordinated with the street pavement rehabilitation program.

During its early years, the improvement program will focus on reducing overflows near schools, hospitals, recreation, and shopping areas. First year projects target the high priority areas near Cordonices Creek and throughout the city. The first year of the 20-year program includes almost a mile of 24-to-30-inch relief sewers along Sacramento Street.

First Year projects, extending throughout 330 acres, will carry out 9% of the total long-range program and will bring significant reductions of overflows to streets and creeks. This first year's effort will prevent overflows to Cordonices Creek and eliminate overflows near Lincoln School, Franklin School, Martin Luther King Jr. High School, Jefferson School, Longfellow School, San Pablo Park and James Kenny Playground.

Berkeley's long-range sewer improvement program is coordinated with the other six East Bay communities' long-range programs to achieve a major goal-to restore the system at the lowest regional cost.

Joint benefit projects allow Berkeley to share the costs of shared facilities with the neighboring communities of Albany, Oakland, and Emeryville, and the District. This will save costs for all. For example, Berkeley and the other communities will share costs of the EBMUD Adeline Street Interceptor because this sewer reduces bottlenecks on Shattuck Avenue and eliminates the need to construct larger diameter relief sewers on Ashby Avenue, Potter Avenue, and portions of Woolsey Street west of Adeline Street.

Overall goals are to keep overflows out of community streets and creeks and to eliminate overflows to the Bay. When complete, the long-range program will eliminate wet weather overflows. After that, cyclic replacement of overage sewers and rehabilitation will supplement the City's 20-year program.

The second year projects will include two sewer rehabilitation projects: one near Longfellow School, and the other, west of Berkeley High School and City Hall. Five relief sewer projects, totaling 3 miles, will  be constructed on Virginia, Cedar, Hopkins, Curtis, Woolsey, University, and Addison Streets near San Pablo Avenue, on 4th Street near Aquatic Park, and on 7th Street in South Berkeley. Construction on the Adeline Street Interceptor within Berkeley will begin in early 1990.

The total long-range compliance program, approved by the Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB), will be complete by 2007.

(Note: Berkeley's capital improvement projects were put on hold in 1992 when the City of Berkeley joined the Alameda County Runoff program. See... Berkeley Opts Out of Clean Water and Berkeley's Stormwater Property Tax: Where's the Money? Berkeley Citizen)

The most frequently used rehabilitation methods in this program vary from lining of existing pipes to complete replacement of mains and lower laterals. A key element of the program is construction of larger relief sewers to eliminate bottlenecks and increase wet weather capacity.

Funding for the Berkeley Sewer Improvement Program during the first two years is through City funds, and grants from state and federal Clean Water Act funds. EBMUD serves as grant administrator for the grant funded programs. For example, for first-year projects, $2.3 million grant funding will add to $3.3 million in local sewer funds. For second-year projects $3.6 million grant funding is anticipated to add to the $4.3 million local share to finance $7.9 million construction costs. Available grant funds will end in 1989. The balance of the rehabilitation costs will be covered by local dollars from sewer service fees in Berkeley's program.

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