Veolia Project Manager Fermin Garcia. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Veolia Project Manager Fermin Garcia. Photo by Robert Eliason.

As San Juan Bautista moves closer to solving its water problems, Hollister’s Wastewater Treatment Plant has become the most likely replacement for the aging treatment plant located on the outskirts of the city. San Juan’s wastewater plant has not kept up with the city’s growth and cannot handle all the commercial waste generated by local farms and packers.

“There is a lot of work to do regarding connecting pipes to the plant and dealing with the right of way between San Juan and Hollister,” City Manager Don Reynolds said. “But once we are connected, the existing San Juan plant will be decommissioned and held in reserve in case of emergency.”

San Juan Bautista is scheduled to host a town hall meeting Nov. 30 at 6 p.m. in person at Luck Library at 801 2nd Street and virtually via Zoom to discuss how hooking up to the Hollister Wastewater Treatment Plant and the West Hills Water Treatment Plant will impact the city’s water and sewage rates.

The city has also posted a link to all of the previous meetings on water and waste along with the water master plan, the wastewater master plan, and the sewer rate final study.

The Hollister plant was built in 2008 at a cost of $57 million. It has been operated and maintained since 2010 by Veolia North America, a company that manages water, energy and waste recovery in over 530 cities in the United States and Canada.

“Everything that goes down your toilet, down your drains, or into your garbage disposal ends up coming here,” said project manager Fermin Garcia. “We are currently doing 2.6 million gallons a day and with recent improvements to our system, we have the capacity for another million gallons a day. If San Juan Bautista hooks into our system, we can easily take on their waste.”

When the sewage and wastewater enter the plant, the larger debris is removed and ground into finer particles. It is sent to a matrix that will allow heavier particles, like sand, marbles, or diamond rings to settle. Along with rags, this debris gets taken to landfills. 

What’s left is sewage and wastewater which will then go through an aeration process where it is mixed with microorganisms that grow and consume the raw sewage. What remains after that process is left to settle and the clean water is piped out for irrigation uses. The sludge is moved to a storage basin where another process turns it into a cake-like solid that can be taken to a landfill as well.

The plant uses software called a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system. It allows controllers and monitors at the facility to link into a central server that can be accessed at the facility or across the country.

“Wastewater treatment has seen great advancements in the 20th century,” Garcia said. “With all the computers, instrumentation, and telemetry, they have taken it to a much higher level. We are able to identify a lot of things in the system, such as chemical composition, pH levels, the level of organic pollutants, and other harmful constituents. We can operate equipment, turn things on and off and adjust things—troubleshoot—from laptops here or we can log in from home by phone or computer.”

The SCADA system also allows Veolia’s home offices to monitor performance and step in remotely if there are problems.

“Our team deals with cities across North America,” said Melissa Demski, a senior director with Veolia. “We are the technical experts for when the local management has questions or needs support in specialty areas. We also monitor preventative and corrective work on a monthly basis. You need to continually morph the operation to meet the challenges of a growing community.”

The ability to remotely watch over the day-to-day operations of the plant was critical during the COVID-19 shutdowns.

“We ran into the challenge of travel bans and the risk of bringing people onsite who were potentially infected,” Demski said. “It has been a challenge, but we were able to supply a way for our experts to see problems using augmented reality glasses or mobile devices so we can see what the onsite technicians are seeing.”

As soon as there is a formal agreement to link the cities, work can go forward on building the pipelines that will take San Juan Bautista’s sewage to the Hollister facility.


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