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What We Do For Fun - Pumping Out East Brother

One of Richmond’s treasures, East Brother Light Station (see Richmond's East Brother Named "Best on the Bay," September 08, 2006) needs lots of TLC. I spent all of today coordinating a seemingly mundane exercise required to keep the sewage system functioning and the NPDES discharge permit intact at East Brother Island. For the pictorial version, click here.


Almost three years ago, East Brother Light Station, Inc., the non-profit corporation that operates East Brother Light Station, completed a $100,000 sewage treatment system funded by a grant from the State Water Resources Control Board through proposition 40. The system uses an intermittent sand filter, which is a technology similar to a rural septic tank system but has a sophisticated sand filter instead of an underground leach field. The final effluent is subjected to ultraviolet light to kill any remaining coliform bacteria before discharging into San Francisco Bay.


Like a septic tank system, the sand filter tanks have to be pumped out every few years. The time had come for a pump out at East Brother, but it was not a matter of simply calling the local septic tank service.


First of all, we had to find a way to get a “vactor truck” to East Brother Island. These trucks are commonly known as “vactor trucks,” which refers to a specific brand. They are used to clean out sewers and storm sewers and then transport the waste to a suitable treatment facility. We chartered an LCM-6 landing craft from Parker Diving Service in Sausalito. Then we contacted Veolia, the contract operator of the Richmond Wastewater Treatment Plant and collection system. Veolia arranged for one of their subcontractors, NRC Environmental Services to provide a truck.


The truck was loaded onto the landing craft at about 11:30 AM on May 11 from the Marina Bay launch ramp, and arrived at East Brother about 12:30 PM. Although the truck was equipped with 320 feet of 2-inch diameter hose, it was about 80 feet short. Luckily, NRC Environmental Services had a crew working at Point Molate for the Navy cleaning out a few remaining underground storage tanks. Additional hose was delivered within a half hour to Point San Pablo Yacht Harbor, where it was transported to the island by the island boat by Captain (and Lighthouse Keeper) Elan Stewart.


By 2:00 PM the pumping operation began. The original sand filter construction contractor, John Campoy was on had to open the tank hatches and temporarily remove the pumps.


The pumping operation continued for another three hours until approximately 2,500 gallons of liquid and semi-sold waste weighing about 10 tons was removed from the sand filter tanks.


Our profuse thanks go to Veolia, particularly Jim Good, Regional Manager, and Ryan Johnson, Richmond Collection System/CIP Manager, for making this possible and to the crew from NRC Environmental and Parker Diving Service for carrying out their end of the operation.


It turns out the subcontractor originally engaged by Veolia to proved a vactor truck for the operation bailed out only yesterday, and Ryan put together plan B in less than 24 hours.

For more information about East Brother, click on www.ebls.org. Volunteers are always needed, see http://www.ebls.org/volunteering.php.