New Sewer Pipe Gets Artistic Overhaul

When a decaying sewer line became an eyesore, the Tahoe City Public Utility District seized the opportunity when it came time to replace the old pipe.
New Sewer Pipe Gets Artistic Overhaul
When a decaying sewer line became an eyesore, the Tahoe City Public Utility District seized the opportunity when it came time to replace the old pipe

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A local artist helped beautify a new sewer pipe that was installed in Tahoe City, California, in October. The artist, Stephane Cellier, was selected to create a mural on an 80-foot section of the replacement pipe that crosses the Truckee River. But that’s simply not the whole story.

“The sewer line that we were replacing is one of the few pieces of sewer infrastructure that goes right across the Truckee River and is pretty vividly out in the open and obviously not a very attractive piece of infrastructure — it’s just a big sewer pipe over the river,” says Kurt Althof, grants and public information administrator for the Tahoe City Public Utility District (TCPUD).

Because of the line’s location, the old pipe had become a popular place for river rafters and other passersby to dispose of gum and stickers, which were plastered all over the old line, covering the above-ground section of pipe from end-to-end.

“When the water levels are normal and water is flowing out of Lake Tahoe into the Truckee River, there’s two fairly large river rafting outfits that operate just below the dam,” Alhof says. “Hundreds of thousands of people float the Truckee River, about a 3-mile stretch of lazy river; you float directly underneath this pipe … That pipe had been there for just under 50 years.

“It had accumulated thousands and thousands of pieces of gum stuck to the bottom of it, graffitied with every color of gum you could possibly imagine.”

With the installation of a new 38-inch sewer line already on the books, an opportunity was born. Althof says one of the utility’s board members came up with the idea of adorning the section of line that crosses the river with some sort of artwork.

“We knew this capital project was coming,” he says. “As the project got closer to happening, we talked more about it and felt that it would be feasible and perhaps would make it more aesthetically pleasing. So we partnered with Tahoe Public Art to assist us.”

A fixed stipend of $4,600 was offered by TCPUD. Tahoe Public Art did a call for artists, and the district received a total of 13 proposals from 10 different people. Tahoe Public Art then helped put together a selection committee that narrowed it down to four. Cellier’s rendition, which depicts the pipe as a transparent aquarium with various fish and underwater vegetation, was selected by TCPUD’s board of directors on July 17.

Cellier and TCPUD engineers were honored during an event on Oct. 19 at the location, where residents were offered their first official look at the new pipe.

“We certainly heard a question here or there like, ‘Why is that necessary?’ which we kind of anticipated,” Althof says. “But what we spent on it was so negligible that we felt like it was such a small investment in the artwork; it was part of the capital budget, so it was all wrapped into it.”

The project took Cellier 11 days to create. The artist told the Tahoe Daily Tribune that he practiced with smaller models to get acquainted with the dimensions he would have to consider when painting the mural.

“(There) is curve, so the design has to deal with that,” Cellier told the newspaper.

After the mural was finished, the painting was coated in a UV-protective layer, which Cellier and TCPUD crews hope will last for many years.

According to the Tahoe Daily Tribune, the new steel pipe is designed to protect the river from potential sewer line failure. It will accommodate a flow of about 4 mgd. The $1.16 million project is not yet finished, however; TCPUD crews still have to finish work on concrete encasements and replant vegetation. Althof says another bit of UV coating is required where some sections of the pipe were disturbed during the installing.

“We’re hoping that people will respect that it’s now art rather than just a pipe, and that really was the whole impetus of doing this project — that it could actually be appreciated for something more than that and to try something new,” he says.

“The vast majority of the feedback we’ve gotten … it’s been very well received.”


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