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As Seen In Processing Magazine

California wastewater plant unable to meet food processors’ demand

Despite having a state-of-the-art and environmentally friendly wastewater treatment plant that has been operating for just three years, Petaluma city, Calif., is already unable to meet the increasing demand for wastewater treatment from the city’s booming food processing industry.

The plant, Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility, which took some $120 million to build, is unable to process certain types of sludgy waste coming from dairies and breweries based in the area, which means that they are forced to transport their high-density wastewater to either the East Bay Municipal Utility District in Oakland or the Napa Sanitation District, adding significant costs to businesses, public works director Dan St. John said.

Even more importantly, however, this means that the city is currently unable to attract new food processing businesses, as it cannot provide them with the best conditions to operate. Anthy O’Brien, of the Petaluma Chamber of Commerce’s economic development committee, claimed that Petaluma is trying to become a preferred location for food processing businesses but this means that the wastewater treatment plant might need to be upgraded to meet the needs of manufacturers. A number of successful businesses have been asking if their high-density wastewater can be treated at the Ellis Creek plant but this is impossible at the moment. However, if Petaluma’s neighboring facilities can process such substances, there could be a way that Petaluma does it too, he told the Petaluma Argus-Courier.

The Ellis Creek plant took 20 years of discussions and plans and four years of construction work to complete. Since its launch in 2009, the facility has been serving its purpose well by recycling wastewater and allowing its use as irrigation for landscaping, parks and playing fields, thus reducing usage of the city’s drinking water. Still, there are people in the city that claim that failing to provide such an option in the plans for the plant was a big mistake, as it excludes a large proportion of businesses from its service.

According to Gary Imm, former CEO of Clover Stornetta Farms, one of the companies that trucks its wastewater to another facility, by the time the local community was being given feedback on the plant’s plans, he was left under the impression that high-density waste processing would be included. He claimed that there were lengthy discussions with dischargers of high-density waste over the charge they would have to pay for dumping their waste with the city. Still, somehow this was not included in the plans.

However, it is possible that the growth of the food processing sector was not predicted at the time plans for the Ellis Creek facility were being drawn up. Leon Sharvon, CFO of Lagunitas Brewing Company, told the Petaluma Argus-Courier that while well-established businesses took part in the discussions for the original design of the plant, breweries like his own were too small at that time and were not considered of major importance.

Dan St. John noted that the plant might have the capacity to take on some of the local food industries’ wastewater, but there must be tests carried out before making that step. If tests showed this was possible, possible upgrades or modifications will be discussed.