CWEA’s First “Plant of the Year” Award: 1929

The CSWA (CWEA) 1929 “Plant of the Year” Award Winner

And the Winner is…the U.C. Davis Sewage Treatment Plant!

“The board of directors will award the Wallace & Tiernan bronze plaque to the best maintained and operated sewage treatment plant during 1930.  The first award of this plaque (for 1929) was made last year at Sacramento to the U.C. Farm sewage treatment plant at Davis, John Jacobsen (sic) superintendent.  A cash prize of $25, donated by the manufacturer members of the association, was also presented to John Jacobsen (sic).  A similar cash prize will be awarded at the spring meeting (California Sewage Works Journal, 1929, Vol. III, No. 1, p. 7).”

CWEA’s Plant of the Year Award program is almost as old as the Association itself.  One of the first actions taken by the newly established California Sewage Works Association’s (CSWA) Board of Directors was the establishment of an annual “Award of Merit” to recognize the “best maintained and operated sewage treatment plant” in California each year – thus the CSWA Award of Merit is the source of our CWEA “Plant of Year” awards.

Fittingly, the CSWA’s Award of Merit inaugural year (1929) was also the first year for the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences’ “Academy Awards” (the “Oscars”).  The reason it is fitting (besides sharing the same inaugural year) is that this article was inspired by a 1930 motion picture of the first CSWA Award of Merit facilities – the U.C. Davis Sewage Treatment Plant.  Thanks to the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County (LACSD) and Tom Parker, the CWEA History Committee was able to obtain a series of films highlighting treatment and collection system tours that were made as part of the 1930 CSWA spring and fall conferences. The cameraman for these films was LACSD’s future General Manager A.M. Rawn, who went on to serve as our Association president in 1936 and Federation president in 1943.  While researching the 1930 spring conference films, the History Committee discovered the story of the first “Plant of the Year”, learned how the award originated and the story of one of our Association’s early leaders, CSWA past-president John Jacobson (U.C. Davis Superintendent of Construction and manager of the U.C. Davis sewage treatment plant).


Origin of the California Sewage Works Association’s Award of Merit

In 1930, the Association’s first Secretary-Treasurer, Edward A. Reinke, described the mission of the CSWA as “creating a new vision of sewage disposal and, by an interchange of ideas of those interested, bringing about better operation of sewage disposal plants in our state (California Sewage Works Journal, 1930, Vol. III, No. 1).”  In 1929, the CSWA Board of Directors decided that an award program would help support the mission of the Association through promoting the proper operation and maintenance of sewage treatment plants, by providing information to the membership about outstanding operations and maintenance practices, inspiring plant operations and maintenance staff to improve and take pride in their facilities through the awards competition and by helping to secure the support of elected officials for funding sewage treatment plants by raising their awareness of the importance of sewage treatment and its role in protecting the health of their communities. 

With the foregoing in mind the CSWA Award of Merit program was started as reported in the 1929 California Sewage Works Journal:

The Board of Directors has decided to award a yearly prize for the best maintained and operated sewage treatment plant.The prize will consist of a bronze plaque, on which each year will be engraved the name of the town or district and operator in charge.In addition to this, the operator will receive a cash prize of $25.These prizes will be donated by the manufacturer-members of the association (California Sewage Works Journal, 1929, Vol. II, No. 1).”

It was recognized by the CSWA Board of Directors that the Award of Merit would need a process and criteria for nominating and evaluating sewage treatment plants for the award, so the Board directed the CSWA Award Committee to establish a procedure for the Award of Merit.  The development of the procedure was accomplished by the Award Committee in time for the 1930 spring CSWA conference.  The first award “procedure” was short and simple compared to the current CWEA program and it included a selection rotation between plants with different treatment processes to ensure the award would not be skewed towards plants with more sophisticated treatment systems.   The Award Committee presented the following to the Board for adoption in early 1930 in order to process the award nominee for 1929:

Procedure for Making Annual Award of Merit

The 1930 Award of Merit Committee, Leon B. Reynolds, chairman, reported at the Third Spring Conference, Ventura, on the following procedure to be used in determining the plant to which the annual award of merit shall be made:

  1. Consideration Involved – The consideration involved in the decision, with their relative weights, shall be as follows:
    1. Intelligent and conscientious operation —————————————————————-30%
    2. Efficient results ——————————————————————————————–30%
    3. Ingenuity in method of operation, development of new devices, adaption to local conditions–20%
    4. Attractiveness and appearance of plant, sufficiency of support————————————-20%
  1. Plants Considered – During 3 out of 5 years the award shall be made to a plant producing a filtered or oxidized effluent and during the remaining two years to a plant producing a screened or settled effluent.The award for each year of the 5-year period, beginning with 1930, shall be as follows:
    1. First year, plant with filtered or oxidized effluent
    2. Second year, plant with screened or settled effluent
    3. Third year, plant with filtered or oxidized effluent
    4. Fourth year, plant with screened or settled effluent
    5. Fifth year, plant with filtered or oxidized effluent
  1. Data to be Submitted to Committee – The Award Committee, promptly after appointment, shall inform each eligible city, district, or institution as to the nature of the award, the time of the award, and the considerations involved in making the award.The committee shall furnish an entry blank to be returned by any city, district, or institution interested in the award, and may also require the submission of pertinent data regarding the operation of the plant.
  2. Time of Award – The Award Committee, appointed by the directors after each annual meeting, shall make its report and the award shall be presented at the annual meeting held the following fall.

This initial award procedure was used by CSWA until 1937 when the CSWA Award Committee recommended that the procedure be revised to include acknowledging second and third place plants (runners up) and to include additional evaluation criteria such as the requirement that a treatment plant possess an unrevoked operating permit, that it meet the treatment requirements of the process being used and that the plant be staffed with CSWA certified operators.


The Award Winning U.C. Davis Sewage Treatment Plant

What type of treatment plant was the 1929 “Plant of Year”?  The 1930 CSWA film clip is just over a minute long and shows three of the main features of the U.C. Davis sewage treatment plant – a pump house, an Imhoff tank and sprinkling filters (a form of trickling filter).  The film is very short but it did provide just enough information to help the CWEA History Committee track down more detailed information about the plant.  Knowing that the U.C. Davis Plant was the subject of a conference tour, the 1930 conference minutes and papers were the first documents to be reviewed by the History Committee. 

The 1930 spring conference minutes provide the details of the tour of the U.C. Davis Sewage Treatment Plant and a photograph (below) of the CSWA tour attendees posing on the plant’s sprinkling filter structure with the Imhoff tank in the background.  The photograph matches the scene in the film and confirms that the film was taken on April 21 1930.

Members of California Sewage Works Association

Regarding the U.C. Davis Sewage Treatment Plant’s design and process, the minutes and conference papers also gave us the following information:

The U.C. Davis Sewage Treatment Plant was constructed in 1926, along with a sewage collection system, at a cost of $50,000 (approximately $650,000 in current dollars).  The plant was designed by H.B. Foster, U.C. Engineer, and consisted of two pumping and screening plants, an Imhoff tank, sprinkling filter, two secondary clarifiers, a sludge bed and irrigation checks to utilize the effluent for summer irrigation. 

The treatment system was designed for handling the sewage of a population of 700 persons plus a large volume of manure and milk/creamery wastes from the U.C. Davis farm.  The average flow to the plant was 0.175 MGD, but it was noted that the plant was occasionally subject to peak flows with a population equivalent of 20,000 people during club gatherings and special campus events. 

At the time of construction in 1926 the U.C. Davis plant was located approximately 2.5 miles from the campus center and the travel time for the sewage from campus to the plant was approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes. The combination of domestic sewage, dairy/creamery wastes and barn wastes (with the dairy/creamery wastes representing approximately one-quarter of the total flow to the plant) created a very strong sewage thanks to the high BOD of the milk wastes, so odor control was a priority for pumping stations and treatment plant O&M program.


Pacific Municipalities1930 CSWA Award Publicity & Students Program

The League of California Municipalities (the predecessor of today’s League of California Cities) and the CSWA held joint annual conferences during the 1930’s.   The League also published Pacific Municipalities, a monthly magazine that provided a “review of municipal problems and civic improvements” as well as covering activities for both the California and Oregon Leagues of Municipalities. 

The U.C. Davis sewage treatment plant was given a “starring role” by being featured on the April 1930 cover of Pacific Municipalities along with an article on the April CSWA conference. Future CSWA president John Jacobson is also highlighted in the Pacific Municipalities article. The publicity provided by the League helped to stimulate conference attendance and Association membership.  It is worth noting that the League of California Municipalities continued to provide support to the CSWA by dedicating a page to CSWA activities in each edition of Western Cities magazine starting in the 1935 and continuing through the 1940’s.

The cover photo of the U.C. Davis plant provides two views of the plant clarifiers and facilities not shown in the 1930 film clip.  Additionally, the magazine contains photographs of CSWA Secretary-Treasurer Edward (Ed) A. Reinke and CSWA President John Jacobson.  The Pacific Municipalities photographs have allowed the CWEA History Committee to identify Ed Reinke and John Jacobson in other California Sewage Works Journal photographs and in the CSWA conference motion pictures from 1930.  This was quite helpful as very few photographs of CSWA’s (CWEA’s) early leadership exist and those that are available rarely identify the people in the photographs.  The League article also provided information that allowed the CWEA History Committee to track down more information and develop a professional profile of CSWA President John Jacobson for future publication. 

Finally, the April 1930 conference tour of the U.C. Davis plant included presentations by three high school students who read their essays on the operation of the U.C. Davis sewage treatment plant and the disposal of its effluent.  As noted in the California Sewage Works Journal, the students “showed a commendable knowledge and interest in sewage collection and treatment (California Sewage Works Journal, Vol. III, No. 1, p. 11).”  This is most likely the first example of a “Sewer Science” type program hosted by the Association.


Pump house and Imhoff Tank during 1930 Conference Tour

Pump house and Imhoff Tank during 1930 Conference Tour

The UC Davis Sewage Treatment Plant in 2013

So what became of the first “Plant of the Year”?   

Pump house and Imhoff Tank in 2013

Pump house and Imhoff Tank in 2013

The original U.C. Davis sewage treatment plant served the campus until 1949 when a trickling filter plant was constructed on the central campus. The CWEA History Committee assumed that the vintage 1926 UC Davis sewage treatment plant would have been demolished years ago, however, thanks to the staff at U.C. Davis, particularly Director of Utilities David Phillips and Senior Engineer/Supervisor Michael Fan, we learned that the most of the old plant still exists and was “recycled” in 1974 to become the site of the California Raptor Center (affiliated with the U.C. Davis School of Veterinary Medicine).   The old Imhoff tank has been turned into a bird compound, the pump house is now a museum and the sprinkling filters are a parking lot where one wall of the old sprinkling filter structure forms the parking lot boundary. The clarifiers and a flow equalization structure still exist, but are not being reused by the Raptor Center.

U.C. Davis Clarifiers in 1930 and Clarifier in 2013

U.C. Davis Clarifiers in 1930 and Clarifier in 2013

The photographs (below) show the U.C. Davis sewage treatment plant pump house, Imhoff tank and clarifiers during the 1930 conference tour compared to the pump house, Imhoff tank and clarifiers as they look today.

It is especially appropriate that our Association’s “First Plant of the Year”, which started out protecting the water environment, still stands today and continues to serve to protect the natural environment by preserving the health of raptor species, particularly those raptors native to California and the West.



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