Victor Valley Wastewater Reclamation Authority is so much more than a wastewater treatment plant. VVWRA is more like a resource recovery facility that protects public health by taking the incoming waste and transforming it into something useful. With the help of nearly $200 million in capital projects, funded in part by more than $71 million in grants, along with forward thinking planning and management, VVWRA creates millions of gallons per day of clean recycled water, generates sustainable green energy and produces high nutrient bio-solids that are used for land application. But it wasn’t always like this. In the last ten years, VVWRA has gone from a facility that was essentially dead and facing multiple water quality violations, to a plant that is recognized as a leader in both the renewable energy and wastewater industries.
When Logan Olds took over as General Manager of VVWRA in 2006, he had no idea of the headaches he inherited. But it soon became apparent the plant was not operating properly and the violations were piling up. And to make matters worse, VVWRA was broke. A wastewater plant is essentially a large living organism that if not operating properly can get sick and die. With that grim picture, VVWRA was in its death throes, but tough decisions made by innovative managers helped turn this once struggling utility around. Today, VVWRA has 46 employees and stands on the verge of revolutionizing an evolving industry.
Grants have played a big part in VVWRA’s many capital projects. Thanks to more than $71 million dollars in grants, VVWRA has launched an industry leading waste to energy program, made massive repairs to the sewer interceptor through the Upper Mojave Narrows and started construction on two water recycling facilities VVWRA is the Victor Valley’s single largest piece of public infrastructure. The main plant in Victorville is more than 400 acres, with 42 miles of sewer line interceptors throughout the valley. VVWRA serves the businesses and residents in Victorville, Apple Valley, Hesperia, Spring Valley Lake and Oro Grande. With construction of subregional water reclamation plants in Apple Valley and Hesperia, VVWRA is switching from a regional treatment model to a distributed treatment model. Currently, all wastewater is treated at the main VVWRA plant in Victorville. The new subregionals will allow for treatment of wastewater closer to the source, while all solids will continue to the main plant to produce energy. The benefits are two fold; first, it expands VVWRA’s capacity in the interceptors, which will help delay the need for extremely expensive upgrades at the Victorville plant; secondly, the subregionals will supply a new source of reliable recycled water within those communities. When completed in early 2017, each of these facilities will provide up to one million gallons of recycled water per day for above-ground irrigation in Apple Valley and Hesperia. The recycled water in Apple Valley will be piped to the Apple Valley Golf Course where it will be used to water the grounds. Similarly, the recycled water in Hesperia will be used at the Hesperia Golf Course and to irrigate the grounds at Civic Plaza. The combined planning and construction cost for the subregionals is estimated at $80 million dollars. That is a lot of money. However, VVWRA and its member agencies have managed to obtain $21 million dollars in grants, which essentially reduces the overall cost by 26 percent. That saves local communities and residents money. And from an economic standpoint, the subregionals will also provide VVWRA with more interceptor capacity, which means the Victor Valley can accommodate growth throughout the area.
VVWRA has become known industry-wide for its groundbreaking Waste to Energy program, a program where naturally occurring methane, also known as biogas, is created at the plant and used to generate electricity. The program has been made possible by a combination of grants, Southern California Edison incentive rebates, and a unique public/private partnership that resulted in no additional cost to rate payers. VVWRA teamed with Anaergia Inc. to build the Omnivore system. Anaergia’s proprietary recuperative thickener was connected to a retrofitted, formerly decommissioned anaerobic digester. The result has been a dramatic increase in the production of bio-gas. VVWRA is collecting the bio-gas produced by Omnivore, as well as the other digesters on the site, and is using it to fuel a pair of 800 kwh 2G generators. This eliminates the need for expensive natural gas that was previously used to power equipment. The 2G generators are capable of producing enough electricity to meet all VVWRA power needs, essentially making the plant carbon and energy neutral. In addition, VVWRA has a long term power agreement with Anaergia, locking in that power at a much lower rate than traditional electrical service. Plans are also in the works for installation of a microgrid and battery system that would allow VVWRA to store and supply itself with a more reliable stream of green energy. This project is being paid for entirely by a state grant from the California Energy Commission. VVWRA foresees a time in the future that they could even export power to the grid. While there are still a few legislative and technical obstacles to make that happen, VVWRA management believes this is a promising source of green power that could have a huge impact on power generation both here in the US and globally.
One of the biggest challenges VVWRA has faced over the last ten years came in December of 2010 when a series of heavy storms severely damaged the main sewer line in the Upper Mojave Narrows. The incident was declared a Federal emergency and a temporary emergency bypass line was installed in just 9 days. Since that time, VVWRA has been working with engineers and construction teams to build a permanent sewer line that avoids environmentally sensitive areas in the Upper Narrows. This project has proven to be costly and dangerous. After a number of unforeseen setbacks and design changes, the project is nearly completed. It’s estimated it will cost $41 million dollars by the time it is completed in mid-2016. However, the vast majority of that expense is being picked up by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), with just a small percentage being the responsibility of VVWRA’s member agencies and ratepayers.
VVWRA has also made a number of improvements to its regional plant in recent years, including installation of a state of the art Aqua Diamond filtering system and an ultraviolet (UV) disinfection building. UV disinfection is now the final step for the recycled water before it is released into the Mojave River. UV disinfection uses powerful lights to essentially disinfect any remaining organisms, making it impossible for them to reproduce. The UV system has allowed VVWRA to stop using chemicals like chlorine to disinfect the recycled water.
The many projects that VVWRA has embarked on in recent years have been focused on two issues: to protect public health and the environment. The better VVWRA is able to do that, whether through technological improvements or repairs and upgrades, the better it is able to serve and protect our community. Secondly, VVWRA has made a conscious effort to seek the best solutions for problems now and anticipate issues related to growth in the future. They have done that with the goal of keeping costs down as much as possible. VVWRA has aggressively sought out grants, alternative funding, rebates and public\private partnerships to provide the Victor Valley with the best possible service at the most reasonable price. Wastewater is something that most people don’t think about, but VVWRA takes its job very seriously and is dedicated to keeping the public’s trust.