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Sewer plant can't meet food processing demands

  • The Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility on Lakeville Highway treats wastewater. It was built in 2009. (John O'Hara/For the Argus-Courier)

Just three and a half years after opening what was considered a cutting edge, environmentally state-of-the-art, waste water treatment plant, Petaluma city staff says the facility is unable to process wastewater from many businesses that are part of the town's burgeoning food processing industry.

According to Public Works Director Dan St. John, the nearly $120 million Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility, which sits on 262 acres of land off Lakeville Highway, is currently unable to process certain types of sludgy waste generated by dairies and breweries. As a result, local businesses like Clover Stornetta Farms and Lagunitas Brewing Co. are forced to truck their high-density waste water to either the East Bay Municipal Utility District in Oakland, or the Napa Sanitation District, at considerable cost to the businesses.

The incapacity for such waste is also impacting the city's ability to recruit new food processors to town.

“We're trying to attract food manufacturers to Petaluma,” said Anthy O'Brien of the Petaluma Chamber of Commerce's economic development committeein, who has been speaking with city staff recently to see if the city's capacity to handle such waste can be expanded. “The plant may require some updating in order to handle the solid wastes food manufactures produce, but we need to address it.”

“We have some big successful businesses in town that are asking if we can take on their high-density waste water, but our plant was not configured to (do so),” said St. John. “When I hear that other nearby agencies can accept high density waste to their sewers, I think, ‘why can't we'?”

The Ellis Creek plant, which opened in July of 2009, came after more than 20 years of City Council debate and took four years to complete. It was touted as a facility that could last for more than 100 years with treatment methods that would allow Petaluma to turn its sewage into usable irrigation for landscaping, parks and playing fields, thereby conserving the city's drinking water.

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