What is the Regional Water Quality Control Plant?
The Regional Water Quality Control Plant (RWQCP) protects San Francisco Bay by treating wastewater from its service area and works with residents, industry and businesses to prevent pollution before it starts.
The RWQCP is owned and operated by the City of Palo Alto and serves its partner communities of the East Palo Alto Sanitary District, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Mountain View, Palo Alto, and Stanford University.
Regional Water Quality Control Plant
2501 Embarcadero Way, Palo Alto, CA 94303
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History of the RWQCP
Early History (1894-1934)
Palo Alto incorporated in 1894. Palo Altans started public sewage improvements in 1898 by approving $28,000 in bond money to fund construction of the City’s first sewer network, which was completed in Private cesspools and privies were banned, and the City health officer had everyone hooked up to the sewer system within a few years. The sewer system served about 3,000 people and discharged untreated sewage from a twelve-inch diameter outfall pipe into Mayfield Slough (near the Environmental Volunteers Building) at the edge of South San Francisco Bay. Public health in town was improved but not in the Baylands. In the 1920s, a Baylands park and yacht harbor were being planned and City leaders feared health contamination to boaters and park enthusiasts. Also, tide-induced sewage overflows on City streets made population growth of the City and Stanford University impossible. The State Board of Public Health prescribed a solution that included a primary treatment plant and a new outfall discharging further from the shore. The planning of Palo Alto’s first treatment plant began.
The Palo Alto Treatment Plant (1934-1972)
Plant operations began July 1, 1934, which made the Palo Alto Treatment Plant the first wastewater
treatment plant on South San Francisco Bay. At a cost of $63,324, the plant could treat three million
gallons per day and served a cannery as well as 20,500 people in Palo Alto and Stanford. The plant
discharged the wastewater 700 feet offshore. Solids were digested in an anaerobic digester, placed
in sludge drying beds at the location of the current landfill, and used as park fertilizer in Palo Alto.
Immediately after World War II, $299,000 was spent to upgrade treatment capacity to five million gallons
per day and deal with the seasonal Sutter Packing Company cannery wastes. To deal with the post-war
boom, the plant upgraded again in 1957 to treat up to ten million gallons per day at a cost of $528,000.
Meanwhile, the neighboring City of Mountain View constructed a primary treatment plant in 1951
which was expanded to enhanced primary treatment in 1961. The City of Los Altos constructed a
primary treatment plant in 1957.