Wastewater Treatment Innovator Russell Culp Dead at 82
Russell Culp, the designer of the South Tahoe Public Utility District pioneering wastewater reclamation system and former general manager of the district, died Sept. 29, 1999, at the age of 82 in Sacramento.
The district’s system has received world-wide attention and acclaim for proving that municipal wastewater could be treated so highly that the reclaimed water could meet drinking water standards.
Culp was born in Kansas City, Kan., and attended Washburn University at Topeka, Kan. He later transferred to Kansas State University in Manhattan, where he graduated with a degree in civil engineering. After extensive work in the Midwest on various engineering project he joined the Kansas State Board of Health, where he served as chief of the water supply division from 1949 to 1962. During this period he attended Harvard University for one year and earned a master’s degree in sanitary engineering. He joined the firm of CH2M/Hill consulting engineers in Corvallis, Ore., in 1962.
The South Tahoe Public Utility District was one of the firm’s clients and Culp, along with other staff, began a study of the possible treatment methods to treat and dispose of municipal sewage from other staff, began a study of the possible treatment methods to treat and dispose of municipal sewage from South Lake Tahoe. At the start of this project the wastewater received a moderate degree of treatment and was sprayed on the hillsides above Pioneer Trail. Upon passage of the Porter-Cologne Act, requiring all wastewater by treated and exported from the Tahoe Basin. Culp and his associates at CH2M began small scale tests to see if treatment processes that have never been applied to municipal wastewater could provide a treated water quality adequate to support a recreational reservoir in nearby Alpine County.
The tests were successful and the full-scale, 2.5 million gallons per day water reclamation plant was placed into service in 1965. The plant was expanded to 7.5 MGD in 1968 and the treated wastewater was pumped over Luther Pass to create Indian Creek Reservoir. Culp left CH2M/Hill in 1968, to become general manager of the district. While general manager he hosted many international visitors who came to observe and learn state-of-the art technology. The technology he created at South Lake Tahoe has been used throughout the world. He served as general manager until 1974, at which time he joined his son, Gordon, to form the engineering firm of Culp, Wesner and Culp at Cameron Park, Calif. He retired in 1986 at age 70.
Culp co-authored, with his son, several texts on wastewater treatment that are in use at many universities and engineering firms. A number of his books have been translated into several foreign languages. He has received numerous professional awards throughout his career and was active in many national societies. He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Dorothy of Sacramento; son, Gordon of Las Vegas; grandsons, David of Las Vegas and Steven of Seattle; and great-granddaughter, Katie of Las Vegas.
Memorial services were conducted Nov. 12 at Las Vegas.
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