City likes its beer and milk: plans upgrade to wastewater plant

  • Ryan Jay, son of Petaluma Hills owner JJ Jay, collects a thick mash of hops and yeast trub from the bottom of a fermenter. This solid waste can't be processed with the brewery's wastewater. Instead, it's sent to farms that use it for animal feed.

With a $1.3 billion food and beverage industry that continues to grow, the City of Petaluma is racing to address a major roadblock that is preventing some beer and dairy businesses from expanding: the inability to process wastewater from food producers.

Earlier this month, the city applied for a $3 million grant from the California Energy Commission to help pay for the $13 million worth of upgrades planned for the Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility. By 2017, city officials want to retrofit the wastewater treatment plant because it was not initially designed to accept high density waste from industrial producers.

"Food processing is a large part of our future, and this is an extension of that," said Mayor David Glass.

The goal of the city's "Biomass-to-Biofuel Project" is to use anaerobic digestion and state-of-the-art technology to transform the waste from food and beverage production into compressed natural gas, which would fuel city vehicles.

Processing food waste

Lagunitas Brewing Company is one of 11 companies in town that produce what is known as high strength waste, which is thick with nutrients from food production. Currently, most businesses truck their wastewater to the East Bay Municipal Utility District plant in Oakland, because the Petaluma plant cannot handle the volume and strength of the waste.

"That water is very difficult to treat," said Economic Development Manager Ingrid Alverde.

Lagunitas' Chief Financial Officer Leon Sharyon said the brewery ships 40,000 gallons of wastewater per day, filling eight to 10 truckloads. At approximately $5,000 a day, the company is spending roughly $1.7 million annually just to ship wastewater.

With such high costs to the business, Lagunitas decided to build their own water treatment plant. Construction begins in June.

"At $1.7 million a year burned, I couldn't wait for a solution to come from the city," Sharyon said.

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