The Santa Paula water recycling plant is located behind the old plant off Corporation Road. Above (left photo) is a night shot of the plant. A large pond of water in front is used for storm water containment. The majority of the systems used to treat wastewater is located below the main building pictured above. (Above right) The Santa Paula water recycling plant is complete and meets the State Water Quality standards. The plant was built on time. The deadline for the completion of the plant was December 15. The plant with miles of piping, filters, and treatment has been online for several months and has been working as designed and planned.

Santa Paula’s new water recycling facility officially completed

December 15, 2010
Santa Paula News

When Santa Paula’s aging wastewater plant received an updated permit in 1997, it started a chain of events that will cumulate Wednesday with the official sanction by the state of the city’s new water recycling facility. The approximately $58 million plant is processing about two million gallons of sewage a day, and as the city grows the facility is capable of handling up to 4.2 MGD.  The city was not responsible for any upfront payments and began paying a monthly service fee once the facility was in operation. The monthly service fee of approximately $500,000 a month includes payment of the plant, operation, maintenance and future capital replacements and is based on daily flows. The service fee is scheduled to run the next 30 years.

In 2000 the city began to rack up fines for polluting discharges into the Santa Clara River, a situation unknown by the City Council who for years had a contractor operating the facility. Citizens living near the plant had also been complaining for years that noxious odors plagued their neighborhoods.

By 2003 the city was negotiating with the State Regional Water Quality Control Board to get a grip on the fines that were expected to hit up to $10 million resulting from the plant, built in 1939, being unable to meet the discharge requirements of the 1997 permit.

One of the provisions of the consent decree reached by the city team of then Mayor John Procter, then Vice Mayor Gabino Aguirre, then City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz, City Attorney Karl Berger and the state was that Santa Paula would build a new state-of-the-art facility with a mandated completion/fully operational deadline of December 15, 2010. The $8 million plus in fines accrued by the city would instead be applied to the new facility, although the city paid about $400,000 directly to the state as part of the deal.

What followed was years of study, Council meetings, and the abandonment of an initial plan between Santa Paula and Fillmore - also under the state gun - to share a new facility. The effort to build a new plant was at times controversial, with the council considering a new technology involving deep shaft treatment.

The water recycling plant issue created splits in the community and among the council, but today the city’s new water recycling facility, located south of the old plant, is one of the first of its kind in the state and the only such operation created through the Design/Build/Operate/Finance process.

After a long bidding process, PERC Water and Alinda Capital Partners joined together to form a DBOF partnership, Santa Paula Water, which designed, built, operated and financed the plant. The city retains ownership of the property where the plant sits.

According to Finance/Acting Public Works Director John Quinn, the last steps are in process: “We’ve drafted a final report that will be mailed out as soon as we get done editing it... it’s more of the same” in a series of state correspondence on the status of the new plant.

This document, though, will be the last one: “We’re saying everything is in compliance with the WDR” Water Discharge Requirement.

No longer is the end product of the plant discharged into the Santa Clara River. The new PERC plant produces Title 22 high-grade crystal clear water that is discharged into nearby percolation ponds that gradually replenish the aquifer. Quinn said the city has provided the state RWQCB with Santa Paula letters of “substantial completion... we’re in the process of giving them the final notice of completion and our letter to PERC is the state’s part of that.”

Ground for the new plant was broken in July 2008, just two months after the contract was signed and a little more than a week ahead of the state mandated start date. From then on construction was ahead of schedule, with test batches and then full operation reached months before the initial September 15, 2010 deadline and even earlier than the December 15 full completion/operational deadline.

With a gentle tiered waterfall in the front, the purpose of which is storm water containment, the new plant is small, its footprint one of layers; the facility is largely built over concrete holding and processing tanks. There is only a slight, musky odor when hatches leading to the underground basins ranging from 24 to 30 feet are opened.

“Everything,” notes PERC Water Operations Manager Gina Dorrington, “can be pulled up” for maintenance. A separator discharges the trash that can be found in sewage, plastic bags and other debris, and the sewer sludge fills about eight oversized bins each week - 28 metric tons a month - for disposal at Toland Road Landfill.

PERC Vice President Steve Owen said, “Redundancy is built in,” so if one tank is disabled for repair a second one kicks in for processing, preventing any downtime for repairs. The complicated treatment process utilizes blowers, scrubbers and aerobotic digesters among other equipment for the 24-7 plant operation that can be controlled on an iPhone or iPad via Central PERC.

Although there are two other operators that work each day with Dorrington on an eight-hour shift, she said computer technology allows access to equipment “24 hours a day.” Dorrington demonstrated on a purple iPhone decorated with a large yellow sunflower, noting, “We can see what’s going on” and in most cases do adjustments without coming to the plant, which has its own house cat, PERCkins.

“You’d think there’d be firecrackers, maybe a parade,” joked Quinn about the official completion of the plant. As it is, there will be a public dedication in the future.

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