This summer, the city turned on the pumps and filters at its $114 million Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility, an enormous four-year infrastructure project and a linchpin in the community?s future water supply.
The completion of the Lakeville Highway plant will allow the city to stop using its Hopper Street treatment site, a 1938 facility once described as being held together with ?Band-Aids and baling wire.?
The new plant could potentially last 100 years, and its treatment processes and methods will be the driving force behind Petaluma?s plan to turn sewage into re-usable wastewater to irrigate landscaping, parks and playing fields ? thereby saving drinking water.
?By using recycled water for urban irrigation, we?ll be able to save that potable water being used right now,? said Mike Ban, the city?s director of water resources and conservation.
Using a combination of treatment methods, including ultraviolet rays and natural wetlands, the plant will produce more than 464 million gallons of recycled water a year ? enough to offset the water use of 1,400 single-family homes, the city said.
After a new eastside reservoir and distribution pipe are built in the next couple of years, the city will begin tying nearby parks and landscaped areas into the recycled water system, Ban said.
?There are a couple of parks along the route, and Casa Grande High School,? he said. ?Those would be the immediate ones right adjacent to the pipeline. Eventually we?ll bring it to Lucchesi and then continue out through the east side, out to parks like Eagle and the Corona area.?
The city is already using a lower class of recycled water, called secondary treated water, to irrigate local golf courses and agricultural land. The Ellis Creek plant will produce what?s called tertiary treated water, clean enough to be used on playing fields and for landscape irrigation.
?The amount of recycled water we can produce here is going to be higher, but it?s the quality that?s the difference,? Ban said. ?Right now, we?re producing recycled water that can be used for irrigation of agricultural land and golf courses, but the tertiary recycled water that we?re going to be producing can be used on school grounds and even for irrigation of edible food crops.?
The completion of the plant is the culmination of a 21-year process to replace the Hopper Street facility.
Through numerous city councils and countless staff members, the city considered both privately and publicly run sewer plants, heard from 3,000 Petalumans who signed a petition asking for the use of wetlands in the treatment process ? and as recently as November, turned back a sewer rate rollback measure that officials said would compromise the plant?s loan-repayment plan.
Grants from the California Coastal Conservancy and the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District helped purchase parts of the 262-acre project site, which includes public-access trails that connect to Shollenberger Park and Alman Marsh.
But the centerpiece of the site is the treatment operation, which transforms raw sewage into re-usable water through a system of screens, ditches, ponds and wetlands.
It?s a unique combination that has been called a ?state-of-the-art? system and earlier this summer attracted the attention of 30 Japanese wastewater engineers, who made a side trip to Petaluma while in the United States for a wastewater equipment expo in Las Vegas.