By Meaghan Sands
“We have no water coming from up north”,” said Joe Phillipy as he pointed to a water quality report from the Metropolitan Water District on his computer screen.
Phillipy, who handles the water operations for facilities management at Cal Poly Pomona, could not remember the last time he had seen the numbers that low. In fact, he could not recall them being at zero, ever.
“I had heard about them cutting off the water supply from up North, but I didn’t really think about it impacting us as much as it did,” said Phillipy.
California is in the midst of another drought, and with California Gov. Jerry Brown’s recent drought relief bill, conservation is key and CPP is on the brink of a solution.
In a discrete building next to green grazing pastures sits CPP’s water treatment plant.
According to Bruyn Bevans, senior project manager for facilities planning and management, conceptualization of the plant began about six years ago when George Lwin, manager of energy services, and Walter Marquez, associate vice president of facilities planning & management, were looking at ways the campus could be more self-sustaining.
Two years ago, construction began. The majority of it was finished about a year ago and all that is left to do is install 1,100 feet of pipeline through the City of Pomona on Valley Boulevard.
CPP is working with the city of Pomona on this and there is no concrete date as to when the plant will be able to go online. Bevans estimates that they should have the final OK by June 1 to complete the Valley Boulevard pipeline. Then fine tuning will be done, the control and reverse osmosis engineers of the operation will be joined together and a 30- day run period will begin so the Department of Public Health can ensure that safe water is being produced.
This roughly $3.3 million system has the capacity to meet 100 percent of the potable water usage on campus during non-peak times using ground water pumped from university wells; peak times of usage is another story.
“During times of peak demand, I don’t think Well 1 is going to be sufficient to meet campus demand by itself,” said Phillipy.
Peak times of water usage include the beginning of the school year and the first weeks of every quarter. During these times, the campus will be able to pull water from the Metropolitan Water District to supplement Well 1.
Once the campus lessens its reliance on MWD it will not only save money, but will allow MWD to source the water sold to CPP to more constituents.
Currently, CPP uses a blend of its own well water and treated surface water bought from the MWD. In 2010, 35 percent of the surface water CPP was using to blend with its ground water was coming from the State Water Project. Now, it’s all coming from the Colorado River.
The plant is being funded by the utilities budget, a Department of Public Health grant funded by Proposition 84 and eventually MWD itself.
According to the California Department of Parks and Recreation, in 2006 voters passed Prop 84: The $5.4 billion Safe Drinking Water, Water Quality and Supply, Flood Control, River and Coastal Protection Bond Act.
Out of this came $425 million for grants that would fund projects utilizing ground water and local water sources, thus reducing the amount of water being imported, said Bevans. From this, CPP will receive $2.6 million in the form of a reimbursement for the construction and operation of the water treatment plant.
Bevans also said that, in exchange for water that will be freed up once the plant is in operation, MWD will provide an undetermined cash incentive for every gallon of its water that CPP does not use.
According to Phillipy, the plant uses a reverse osmosis system to filter out unwanted substances. This is the same process used by commercial bottlers such as Sparkletts and Arrowhead.
The Spodger Basin feeds the campus’ wells, but is not a pristine water source. The high amounts of nitrates, caused by the fecal matter of animals such as cattle, and perchlorates, a byproduct of rocket fuel, present in the groundwater are the reasons a plant is needed.
According to Phillipy, although the water isn’t 100 percent clear of contaminants after treatment, substances are only present in parts per billion and trillion. That’s comparable to two to three drops of a substance in the entire Rose Bowl filled with water.
Why wouldn’t the aim be pure water? Well, because pure H2O has no taste, companies experiment for the best flavor profiles to make their water different from the next person’s.
“Everybody’s formula is a little bit different,” said Bevans. “If you cook spaghetti sauce and you line up 10 other people’s spaghetti sauce, it’s all going to be spaghetti sauce. It’s going to be red and get smeared on spaghetti and they’re all going to taste kind of the same, but a little bit different because you may put some spices in yours that someone else doesn’t. And it’s that spice, that little blend of taste that each water company puts into their water,that makes it different.”
According to Phillipy, about 60 percent of the well water will come through the filters while the other 40 percent will be bypassed around. Of that 60 percent, 75 percent will be filtered into potable water while the remaining 25 percent is non-recoverable. Thus for every gallon of water, the plant will produce three quarts of drinking water.
Of CPP’s four wells, two are used to irrigate the land near Spadra Ranch, one is deemed unsuitable for use (the plant is not designed to filter out contaminants present in it) and the other is used for the potable water on-campus and, eventually, the water treatment plant.
Looking toward the future, Phillipy said that once the unsuitable well gets a pretreatment facility installed, CPP will be able to use both wells and will probably never need to use water from MWD, even during peak periods.
Once on-line, the plant will not only sustain CPP’s campus with its own water supply, but is prepared for future campus growth. The plant has prepared a space to add on to the filtration system if growth is needed and the addition would provide a substantial increase.
“That’s 50 percent increase of what we do now,” said Bevans. “We have more than enough capacity for the next 100-150 years to supply water as long as our well holds up, which, from what all the investigations, engineers and geo-groups that we’ve employed and been involved with tell us, there is no reason not to expect water from that well for the next 150-200 years.”
Bevans also said that they make the assumption that the well will not dry up, but they also take measures to reduce and reuse.
The plant will also provide further educational opportunities for students.
“This plant is the perfect learning facility for civil engineering students interested in going into water treatment and I would like to see groups of students come in through here and checking the plant out,” said Phillipy.
Phillipy, like many who are involved with the water treatment plant, ultimately want people to understand how important this kind of work is for the environment and the effect plants like this will eventually have on Southern California.
“The climate is impacting our ability to provide drinking water to students and residents in Southern California,” said Phillipy. “There may be a time when we don’t have surface water so it is important for municipalities to start cleaning up the ground water.”
Meaghan Sands/The Poly Post
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