Santa Paula: Another Chapter and More Investment in the Waste Water Plant

By Sheryl Hamlin

Santa Paula built a state of the art waste water plant with PERC using funding from Alinda Capital. The plant went on-line in 2010. From engineering problems, chlorides and a lawsuit, the plant has been plagued with problems. Read recent history here.

Item #4 on the Regular Council Agenda of January 16, 2019 involved chlorides, the Los Angeles Water Quality Control Board (LAWQCB), and various options to satisfy the Cease and Desist Order (CDO) under which the plant has been operating. Here is a summary from the staff report presented by Public Works Director Clete Saunier.

“The City owns and operates the Santa Paula Water Recycling Facility (SPWRF) which receives, treats, and disposes of wastewater from the City. Treated wastewater is discharged onsite using percolation basins. The SPWRF is operating under Waste Discharge Requirements (WDRs), Order No. R4-2018-0022, and a Cease and Desist Order (CDO), Order No. R4-2018-0023, which were adopted by the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board (LARWQCB) on February 8, 2018. Treated effluent from the SPWRF does not meet the effluent limitations for chloride listed in the WDR. The CDO defines requirements for meeting the effluent limit and stipulates interim limits and milestones in a compliance schedule. Recycled water distribution is part of the strategy to reduce impacts on the groundwater from high chlorides. The CDO states that by February 1, 2019 the City shall submit the infrastructure design for recycled water use pipelines and pump stations to the LARWQCB”

With the deadline of February 1, 2019 nearing, the consultant MKN started months ago analyzing various scenarios to meet the chloride reduction, which is the only issue with the water at this point. The consultant came up with nine (9) alternatives.. The detailed report showing miles of piping to move the water throughout the city and the county, the amounts of water to be moved and the costs are shown in the detailed report along with maps. To download the entire packet, click here.

The consultant presented a summary of the study highlighting the two most feasible alternatives shown below. To see the consultant’s presentation, click here: RWMP Presentation

Alternatives, Source: MKN

Note that Alternative 2 (Pipeline to Limoneira’s west fields) is the cheapest over ten years, even though the initial constructions costs are higher. The ten year cost for Alternative 2 is $17.8 million, while the ten year cost for Alternative 9C is $22.28 million, a difference of $4.489 million over a decade of operation.

Alternative 2

Alternative 2 involves a new tank at the WRF (wastewater reclamation facility) and a new pipeline, shown in purple on the map below. Limoneira would use the water for agricultural purposes. According to the consultant, their needs are greater than the WRF could supply. An MOU would need to be created and executed for this alternative.

Alternative 2 Map, source: MKN

Alternative 9

From the MKN report, alternative 9 is described as follows:

“Project Alternative 9 consists of sidestream reverse osmosis treatment and blending for discharge into percolation ponds. By only treating part of the flow to meet effluent chloride limits, less capital and operating cost would be incurred if this alternative is implemented. This alternative will be carried through to the fine screening analysis regardless of the outcome of the rough screening analysis.”

One issue is the removal of the brine, a common problem with RO (reverse osmosis) desalination. Piping or trucking are the two options. The other are the miles of pipleline to distribute the water which do not exist in the city. Note these pipelines are in other alternatives using the RO.


Council Member Sobel asked about the 110 mg/L versus 117 mg/L of chlorides mentioned in the report. According to Director Saunier, the Santa Clarita Basin received a basin modification approval for the higher standard for agriculcural purposes. There is another effort with another consultant, said Saunier, to advance this option for Santa Paula’s purposes, which would reduce costs considerably.

Council Member Crosswhite asked about the total project cost of the easements in Option 2. The consultant said a 30% contingency had been added for the purchase of the easements; however, nothing was said about a landowner’s refusal to sell the easements.

Council Member Crosswhite also asked about the cost and how the city would pay for this project. City Manager Rock said that the cost would be borne by the Sewer Fund, which is an enterprise fund. Council could have to be “comfortable” with “how far we could go”, meaning how high would the rates need to be raised.

Vice Mayor Araiza said he has a long history with this plant and was part of the negotiating team to buy it back. He said the water comes from the ground with chlorides, so one option considered previously was the filtration of the water at the pumping stations. He also said that it is cheaper for Limoneira to use the WRF water than to pump it. They have looked at all options, he said, for many years.


The council approved moving forward with the submission of the project alternatives to the LAWQCB. Once accepted by the LAWQCB, staff and consultant will provide a more detailed cost report which will be included with the mid-year budgeting process.

Council Member Crosswhite said she was “sad” the costs to deliver the reclaimed water to the city’s parks was prohibitive.

To watch the video, click here.

For more information on author click sherylhamlin dot com

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6 Responses to Santa Paula: Another Chapter and More Investment in the Waste Water Plant

  1. Sheryl Hamlin July 14, 2019 at 8:55 am

    From the PW Director’s own staff report, he says this about Alternative 2:

    “The Project does not meet the existing chloride effluent limit of 110 mg/L or the chloride mass loading limit of 79 pounds per day and would require modifications to the City’s permit for the WRF (Waste Discharge Requirements). Discussions with the LARWQCB are ongoing.”…

    So the city is looking for an exemption to make this work. Why would Limoneira want this water for its prized crops?

  2. Dr Edo McGowan February 1, 2019 at 5:47 am

    At issue is the attempt to take a fairly complex problem, pretend it is simple, try to treat it with half efforts, thus ignoring reality, then hope it just goes away. Then sit back, wringing hands, and wonder why it continues to fail. In much of this one will also find a regulator that has been in a long standing non-action mode, also ignoring reality and that just adds another layer ultimately complicating the issue, including a layer of public health concern. There are fairly simple approaches to dealing with the chloride issue, but these continue to be ignored. The bureaucrats want non-action to fix the issue by having it ignored until their retirement from office.

  3. Sheryl Hamlin January 20, 2019 at 8:57 am

    Press release for purchase of plant in 2015 …

  4. Gayle January 20, 2019 at 8:54 am

    R/O is too expensive. The only feasible treatment was/is percolation. The entire valley is subject to chloride limits. A regional solution should be looked at again.

    Was too expensive also, but Piru, Fillmore and Santa Paula are all over the basin limit. And, now, the Newhall Ranch development treatment plant will probably contaminate basins or their solution will cost a billion dollars. But that problem is remedied by MORE development to produce more ratepayers.

  5. Sheryl Hamlin January 19, 2019 at 4:49 am

    While option 2 is the cheapest, option 9C is the best for the long run. It gives more options for commercialization of the recycled water and returns better quality water into the ground so that when the water is eventually pumped, it is more pure. The plant should have had RO capability originally. Now is the time to do it.

  6. Gary Nasalroad January 18, 2019 at 4:45 pm

    Sheryl. Good reporting and analysis on a difficult and troubling issue that seems to have been with us forever. I still don’t know why this chloride issue was not addressed properly when the new plant was built.
    Gary Nasalroad


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