By Samantha Clark, Santa Cruz Sentinel
CAPITOLA >> Construction of a new sewer line, which sanitation officials hope will help reduce bacteria contamination in the local watershed and Capitola Beach, will slow traffic on Rosedale Avenue and Plum Street through April 1.
Drivers can expect potential lane closures between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on weekdays.
The $9.5 million project, funded in part with a $1.5 million state grant, is relocating a major sewer line out of Noble Gulch, a sensitive riparian area. Crews are constructing 9,300 feet of new line and sealing the existing line to keep human waste from leaking into Noble Gulch, Soquel Creek Lagoon and Capitola Beach.
“We made a case to the state’s Clean Beaches Task Force that this was a potential threat to Capitola Beach, which was one of the beaches they wanted to help improve the water quality,” said Rachél Lather, sanitation engineer with the Santa Cruz County Sanitation District.
Noble Gulch feeds into the Soquel Creek Lagoon, which is the primary source of contamination for Capitola Beach, according to a county study. About 75 percent of the bacterial load originates from the urban areas near the lagoon mouth.
Though a popular destination, Capitola Beach has regularly graced an annual top ten “Beach Bummer” list for West Coast beaches with the dirtiest water. Heal the Bay, an advocacy group in Santa Monica that closely monitors beaches in California, Oregon and Washington, marked Capitola Beach with the dubious distinction in 2014, 2011 and 2010.
“For a long time, we’ve been working on gradually replacing pipes, focusing on the ones near waterways and working our way out,” Lather said, “so that we’re addressing the pipelines that could have the most impact on improving the environment or those which could be the most catastrophic if they failed.”
She said that sanitation engineers during the 1940s and 1950s put sewer pipelines in gulches because they run downhill and easily flowed into a pump station.
The Santa Cruz County Sanitation District serving Live Oak, Capitola, Soquel and Aptos has 200 miles of sewer lines, the majority of which are more than 50 years old. Public Works director John Presleigh said the county does sizable upgrades every year.
“What we do is rebuild sections that really need it where the pipe has degraded,” he said.
The sanitation district recently got board approval to seek $15 million in loans with a low 1.5 percent interest rate to advance more projects, which, Lather said, will help keep customers rates low.
“Sewer, water and gas infrastructure for jurisdictions everywhere in the whole country are needing to be replaced,” she said. “We just have to all be patient with the construction because it’s going to be part of life for a while.”
The new Noble Gulch sewer line will snake around Monterey Ave, Bay Ave and Plum Street under Highway 1 to Pepperwood Way and Del Rio Circle to Soquel Drive, affecting nearby traffic.
Soquel Glen and Brookvale Terrace mobile home parks mark ground zero for the project. Crews are digging deep underground pits and open trenches for the new sewer line inside both communities. Heavy equipment coming in and out will also impede traffic.
Residents raised concerns months ago about access for emergency services.
“We’ve been in close contact with the Fire Department and ambulance services,” said Scott Loewen, project inspector with HDR Inc., the construction management consultant. “If there’s an emergency while we’re working inside a mobile home park, 911 will also contact us, the contractor, so we can put plates over the trench so the ambulance can attend to whomever it needs to.”
He expects the work inside the mobile home to last three to six months. The entire Noble Gulch sewer line project, which began in January, should wrap up in late 2015 or early 2016.