1987 Winner; 1986 Finalist
City of Arcata, California
Innovations in American Government Awards
Innovations in American Government Awards

The City of Arcata, California's integrated wetland wastewater treatment, wetland enhancement, and salmon ranching program was established to address the need for an appropriate, cost-effective, and environmentally sound wastewater treatment technology that would meet federal and state mandated water quality legislation. The project also needed to restore a degraded urban waterfront and salmon runs that ran to creeks heavily impacted by industry. Arcata was prompted into pursuing an alternative solution to its sewer disposal needs by the escalating costs of a regional wastewater treatment plant sponsored and promoted by the state. The "regional" concept was estimated to cost $24 million to complete in 1974. This figure had swelled to more than $50 million by 1979, which, even with only a 20 percent financial responsibility, would have placed an immense financial burden on the taxpayers of Arcata.

By the late 1970s, Arcata had already demonstrated that treated wastewater could be reclaimed and used to raise juvenile salmon and trout at a density of 124,000 smolts per acre without supplemental feeding. Adults raised in this way returned to the creek of their release at a rate of 0.1 percent, a rate comparable to other local hatcheries using more costly techniques. With this aquaculture data as a foundation, utilizing restored coastal wetlands to further treat Arcata's wastewater on degraded, abandoned industrial land was consistent with Arcata's progressive, resource-reuse philosophy. This program has not only insured the financial integrity of Arcata, but has also allowed the citizens of Arcata to get back in touch with their waterfront by creating the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary. The Sanctuary is now over 150 acres and provides high recreational and aesthetic value, and is a great source of pride to the community.

Due to the close proximity of the Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary to the center of town (approximately 1 mile), citizens of Arcata and adjoining cities frequent the sanctuary for picnicking, bird watching, hiking, jogging, biking, and boating access to the bay. These uses were targeted by the Marsh Task Force in planning the sanctuary and represent uses that were not common in the area before this program was implemented. Every family, business, and institution paying wastewater service fees has been a beneficiary of this project. The redirection of these saved monies, which amounts to approximately $500,000 a year, has flowed to the private sector through the purchase of consumer goods and services. The university and public schools have been major users of the project for research and educational purposes.

Based on traffic counts and surveys by volunteer groups (Audubon Society), the popularity of the area is increasing. Counts for 1983 estimated that approximately 93,000 people visited the most accessible unit in the integrated system (Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary). Figures for 1984 show that approximately 112,000 people visited the sanctuary that year.

Water quality constituents examined during the marsh pilot project included suspended solids, biochemical oxygen demand, and total coliform, among others. It was shown that over two years these constituents were reduced by an average of 86 percent, 56 percent, and 99 percent, respectively, leading to greatly improved water quality. This resulted in zero violation of the state secondary effluent discharge standards during the two-year period.


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