Santa Paula: Somewhat Unusual Wastewater Bid

By Sheryl Hamlin

During the October 7, 2020 Santa Paula Council meeting, the council considered a $100,000 addition to the MKN (Michael K Nunley Associates) contract. These monies will be used for services from Gradiant who will provide technical specifications on their high recovery reverse osmosis (RO) technology which MKN will incorporate into the MKN design of the new high recovery RO process at the Santa Paula Waste Water plant.

Public Works Director Saunier said this was a “somewhat unusual” way of doing things. There was no guarantee that Gradiant would get the contract, so they had to be compensated for their design work and technical support to MKN who is designing the new RO process.

From the staff report of 10/07/2020, it is noted:

“ … supply of the Gradiant equipment will be written as a requirement for the general construction contract which will also include site development, building construction, pipelines, etc. … “

There was no explanation how Gradiant would not be guaranteed a contract under these conditions.

Design of the RO Process

MKN has designed a three step process. According to the engineer who explained these steps and the MKN design at the 09/02/2020 council meeting:

Step 1) filtration to “knock out hardness” per MKN engineer which recovers 15% to 20% influent water
Step 2) brackish water RO (standard) recovers another 85% water and sends it out to treated water
Step 3) At this point, the MKN engineer explained the need for another step to drop target chlorides to a range of between 100 to 110 mg/L. The increased salinity at this point has reached seawater level RO. Seawater desalination process is not common, but dozens are deployed in the US.

The problem in Santa Paula is the brine disposal (solids left at the end of Step 3) because there is no ocean or pipeline to the ocean. Thus the city is left with expensive trucking, which is why MKN searched for a “high recovery” process for the last step to reduce the amount to be hauled. One truck/day is $120,000/year operating costs. The Gradiant system reduces trucking from four to one truck per day. Note there is still no resolution as to where the brine will be trucked.

At no point in any of the council meetings, did MKN specify how it settled on three companies to produce bids for the “high recovery”. Those companies were: Suez, Veolia and Gradiant.

Source: MKN 9/2/2020 Staff Report

Public Comments

Sheryl Hamlin submitted the following Public Comment electronically:

Referenences obtained for Gradiant were informative. With Gradiant’s scientific background, it would be worthwhile to have them comment on virus detection in wastewater and particularly the CDC National Wastewater Surveillance System (NWSS).

The MKN consultant assured the council that the current system of disinfection killed Covid. Unfortunately, he has not read these and many more readily available studies:

1. SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater: State of the knowledge and research needs
2. California Association of Sanitation Agencies

Council Discussion

Council was generally concerned about the lack of references in the municipal wastewater space.

Mayor Araiza questioned how many providers of the equipment existed for Gradiant. The consultant kept insisting that Gradiant used “standard equipment” in a novel deployment. Assuming contractors will bid on the MKN design and attempt to build it per spec, but if there are production issues, who is untimately liable? MKN? Gradiant? Contractor? Nothing addressed the ultimate liability for producing a working system on time to meet the State deadline.

Council Member Crosswhite asked if the RO system would remove PFAs. Note that the State has told ten county wastewater plants to measure PFA levels, to which PW Director said Veolia has been instructed to measure two wells. Read about that here. The MKN consultant replied that the new system would remove PFAs but there were cheaper ways to do it particularly since ALL of the effluent must be cleaned of PFAs and the new RO system is designed ONLY for 25% of the effluent because Santa Paula is fulfilling the minimum requirements of the State at this point in time.

Council Member Crosswhite was concerned about the total cost of this project citing the savings from the recent bond refinance as not enough. Note, however, that council chose Option II instead of Option I which would have provided a gross savings of the life of the bonds of $20 million versus $8.5 million for Option II thus forgoing $12 million in savings. Read Here.

The item was approved 4-0 with only four members now on Council due to Clint Garman’s resignation.

Previous meetings on this topic:

September 2, 2020 Council Meeting

Study Session Wastewater

To watch the video, click here.

To read about the author, click sherylhamlin dot com

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Gayle Washburn
Gayle Washburn
9 months ago

This project will bleed the ratepayers for generations. The Suez proposal $40 million. Even if they go with Gradiant the costs will continue to mount beyond this rough estimate. Why is there no effort – as mandated over a decade ago – to remove salt based water softeners…the cause of the high chlorides.

Edo McGowan
Edo McGowan
9 months ago
Reply to  Gayle Washburn

Gayle and Sheryl, what was the sticking point with Peter’s pellet system, the one used to soften water by the Dutch in the Netherlands? That system came out with a saleable byproduct and softened the whole supply. This would not affect the COVID-19 surveillance.

Edo McGowan
Edo McGowan
9 months ago
Reply to  Sheryl Hamlin

Don’t expect much to happen as long as the Regional Board remains whimppy. This board has a long history of do-little as far as enforcement goes. Thus, there is no incentive for those in non-compliance to correct things.

Sheryl Hamlin
Sheryl Hamlin
9 months ago
Sheryl Hamlin
Sheryl Hamlin
9 months ago

If $15 million is only a 25% solution, then what will the 100% solution cost?
It should be obvious that a regional solution is needed. A consortium should buy the old SCWW ROW, rehabilitate pipeline and send to Oxnard with multi-cities sending material to this pipeline.