After nearly two years, the City of Tehachapi's much anticipated wastewater treatment plant upgrade is officially complete.
Mayor Ed Grimes, surrounded by several local officials, cut the ribbon on one of the largest projects that the city has ever taken on at an open house held on Wednesday, Nov. 28.
The upgrade of the city's existing facility includes new maintenance and administration buildings, as well as new monitoring equipment, pumps and even landscaping.
However, the plant's biggest improvement is the new $400,000 sludge dewatering press that accepts wet sludge, mixing it with a polymer before squeezing it into a dry cake for disposal.
According to Chief Plant Operator Jason Parks, prior to its installation the plant's old system called for solar drying, which was not optimal in Tehachapi's cooler climate.
"Bio solids are always a big deal," he said, "And this allows us to keep of a good balance of solids on our system, improves our water quality and allows for us to stay in compliance with the Regional Water Control Quality Board."
To fund the upgrade, the city used money from its wastewater enterprise fund -- collected from fees from building permits -- covering the remaining half with a long-term low interest loan from the California State Water Resources Control Board, which is backed by federal stimulus funds.
"This particular project has taken a long time, but it's an important one for our city," Mayor Ed Grimes said at the opening ceremony where city officials were treated to a facility tour.
"It is important in terms of our future because now we have the capacity to grow if we need it," he added. "We want responsible growth and this is part of that response."
And while capacity to meet the city's growing population was a primary driver for the improvements, City Manager Gregg Garrett said the upgrade also allows the city to be earth-friendly.
"It's been a great journey," he said, "We are looking towards the future and we are doing the right thing environmentally."
Garrett said he also believes the project benefits current residents and provides an opportunity for the overall growth of the community.
"The city provides fire, police, water, sewer and roads, so this is one of the main components of how we do things," he said. "It is extremely important we plan for the future and treat wastewater at the highest level we can afford to treat it at, and continue to provide the high level of services that we have been known for."
The current capacity of the city's wastewater facility is 1.25 million treated gallons per day, well above the current incoming volume of 830,000 to 850,000 gallons.
However, Garrett said there may be additional upgrades.
"We are always looking into the future, and we are already looking to the future," he said pointing out that upcoming goals could include increasing treatment all the way to a tertiary level to continue to increase the uses for all city water. That would increase the city's ability to use treated water for sprinkler systems to irrigate parks and landscapes instead of using valuable potable water sources.
"Toilet to tap" he said with a smile. "But not that you'd want to drink it."