Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The 1926 University Farm Sewage Treatment Plant (263)

1. One of two photos on the cover of the April, 1930 issue Pacific Municipalities. Looking northwest. 
2. Caption to the two photos on the April, 1930 cover of Pacific Municipalities.

From the beginning, agricultural research and education at the UC Farm created an unusual density of humans and other animals in adjacent corners of rural Yolo and Solano counties. Not commonly recognized but of fundamental import, that density produced a large and increasing stream of what is politely termed “sewage.”

Merely to avoid inundation--much less health and aesthetic disasters--significant control measures were required. One of these was a “sewage works” plant constructed in 1926 in the northeast section of the intersection of Old Davis Road and the South Fork of Putah Creek (images 1, 2 and 8).

This plant appears to have been “state of the art” at the time because the association of people who operate such works in California named it the “Plant of the Year” in 1929. Indeed, this was also the first time this award had been made because the organization-- the California Sewage Works Association--had only recently formed.

I became aware of this story in email exchanges with wastewater historian Dr. Nicholas Pinhey, whose interests led him to focus on this plant because of its unique place in sewage history. His publications on the subject include the following article, from which I quote below:*

Here is Dr. Pinhey’s account of the basic facts of the plant:

3. Pinhey, p. 13.
As most everyone recognizes, the physical plant aspects of the UC Farm/UCD have always been (and continue to be) highly dynamic. Facilities are frequently erected, demolished, remodeled and repurposed. Such has also been the case with sewage management. Pinhey further reports about the plant:

4. Ibid, p. 16.
I would be remiss if I neglected to call attention to the role of the revered John Jacobson, Superintendent of Construction on the Farm from the early days to his untimely death in 1941. He made the major decisions regarding this plant, sewage management in general, and most everything else built on the campus in the first decades. He even organized the tour of this very plant that we see here (images 5 and 9a).

As well, he is a significant figure in Davis town history. Having elsewhere published accounts of these activities and, I hope, rescued him from obscurity, let me only here reference further information that can be found on Davis History Today and in his UC In Memoriam:

In addition to discovering the 1930 motion picture footage of this plant, described in Davis History Today # 262,** Dr. Pinhey has also identified other photos of it and of Jacobson published in the April, 1930 issue of the League of California Municipalities magazine, Pacific Municipalities. Some of these images are reproduced above and below in this report.

Last, I could not but wonder what the site of the plant looked like today. I therefore checked the view on Google Earth (image 8) and went to the Raptor Center and looked around.  Images 9a and 9b attempt to show a 1930 view of the Sprinkling Filter and what is there today. And, Images 10a and 10b intend to juxtapose the 1930 view of the Pump Station and Imhoff Tank with today’s scene. Like Dr. Pinhey, I conclude that the major features of the plant are still there and have been repurposed for California Raptor Center use.
*  Dr. Pinhey graciously shared his UC Farm sewage works materials with me and made helpful suggestions, especially regarding final edits and corrections. I thank him very much.


6. Second photo on the cover described in images 1 & 2, above. Looking Southwest over  the South Fork of Putah Creek.

7. Still from the film described and linked to in the text.

8. Google Earth 2107. Looking west, Putah Creek is on the left, Old Davis Road is at the top.

9a. Looking northwest toward the plant, 1930.

9b. Looking northwest to the plant, 2017.
10a. 1930.

10b. Pump house and Imhoff Tank, 2017.