Santa Paula: Waste Water Treatment Plant (WRF) Spill Enigma

By Sheryl Hamlin

Item 13 on the February 6, 2019 Santa Paula Council agenda was a request for $111,900 with TESCO Controls for the instrumentation and control system audit of the Waste Water Treatment Facility, now called WRF (Water Recycling Facility). Analysis of the two spills (“uncontrolled discharge”) led to these systems.

Below is the staff report summary:

The Santa Paula Water Recycling Facility (WRF) has experienced two significant failures leading to uncontrolled discharge of treated wastewater – October 2015 and March 2018. These two failures have identified two specific design deficiencies: 1) Permeate pump motors are located below grade in a location that is likely to flood, leading to failure of motors critical for transferring flow through the treatment process; and 2) Pump control panels are located adjacent to the permeate pumps and subject to the same flooding.

Source: Layton Construction

In July of 2018, working with American Water, the plant operator, a plan was devised to elevate the control above the water. This plan estimated in excess of $400,000 can be read here.

Public Works (PW) Director Clete Saunier announced at council that a new idea is under consideration which involves the construction of a curb. Here is a summary from the staff report:

This option (July 2018) was later determined to be untenable and too costly to implement. Consultation with a structural engineer identified potential methods of installing curbing around the pump pits in a manner that would prevent water from ever entering them. This alternative preventive design is expected to be more efficient and significantly less expensive than raising the pumps and motors.

The item was approved. Council Member Crosswhite asked why the current operator could not perform the audit. Director Saunier replied that this was a highly specialized task. PERC did not do a highly detailed job, he said. They have discovered errors in wiring logic. The integrator will map out the logic and document it, which is also missing.

Who is the Operator?

Recall that at the October 18 council meeting, it was announced that American Water was exiting the wastewater management business and was recommending Veolia to assume the remainder of the contract. On December 19. 2018, the Veolia contract was pulled from the agenda with a statement from the City Manager about a disagreement with the consultant. At this point, there has been no response from the city about this item.

History of the Plant

For near-term history of the plant, click here. To read about the chloride reduction plan required by the Water Board, click here. There will be forthcoming report about the plant’s previous history.

There has been no indication that either of these two spills was reimbursed by insurance.

To watch the video and download the full staff report, click here.

For more information on author click sherylhamlin dot com

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3 Responses to Santa Paula: Waste Water Treatment Plant (WRF) Spill Enigma

  1. Krys Bojanowski February 10, 2019 at 1:05 pm

    I am not (unfortunately) a sewer treatment plant expert, but the general knowledge is that bacteria are killed in such plants by irradiation or ozone treatment.

  2. Dr Edo McGowan February 10, 2019 at 9:02 am

    One might assume that all this excitement over spills relates, in some way, to the enhanced public health risk from the released pathogen load that is developed by the processing of sewage within sewer plants. Sewer plants, by their design, do not just pass through, but actually generate astounding loads of released pathogens. Many of these pathogens are antibiotic resistant, the precursors of superbugs. The mixing of bacteria and level of gene swapping amongst bacteria within a sewer plant, such as the one in Santa Paula, allows pathogens to swap genes with each other, when in nature they might never meet. There is nothing new about this knowledge, it is just ignored by the regulatory community at the peril of the community and public health. That sewer plants are major generators of pathogens released to the aquatic environment has been well understood since the 1960s, but essentially ignored in sewer plant design. This issue relates to the increased cost to truly remove harmful contaminants and pathogens. Current designs are simply incapable of proper treatment, so the community remains at risk
    But even with spills thus flagged, the basis of the system’s flaws remain, ignored. Whatever the daily gallonage in output by this plant, it is put into the environment of the Santa Clara River’s water shed. That means trillions of pathogens and their genes for creating pathogenesis are discharged daily without thought, yet extreme excitement develops with spills. The logic is faulty.
    Dr Edo McGowan

  3. Citizen Reporter February 10, 2019 at 8:43 am

    Very infomative article.


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