The Orange County Sanitation District (OCSD) has selected its professional design team for a new $300 million temperature-phased anaerobic digestion (TPAD) facility in Southern California, securing reliable biosolids management for the next 50 years. 

With the sixth-largest wastewater collection, treatment, and recycling infrastructure system in the U.S., OCSD provides wastewater services for 2.6 million people in central and northern Orange County.

The 144-million gallons per day (MGD) capacity rated Plant No. 2 consists of eighteen digesters built from 1959 through 1979. Due to their age, the digesters require significant rehabilitation to ensure protection against seismic hazards, comply with code, and be resilient to sea-level rise, as outlined in a 2015 structural/seismic hazard evaluation study by OCSD advising it to be more cost-effective to build new digesters than rehabilitate the existing. Subsequently, OCSD’s 2017 Biosolids Master Plan (BMP) was developed to evaluate future biosolids management options and recommended capital improvement projects to upgrade solids handling facilities at the plant.

The new Class A TPAD facility is the largest of several projects resulting from the BMP and will be capable of processing all wastewater solids generated from Plant No. 2 until 2045.

Effecting significant improvements in biogas and methane production, solids and organic removal, pathogen reduction, and dewaterability over conventional digestion practices, the TPAD system will provide long-term resource recovery and operational benefits to OCSD. The Class A TPAD system involves high temperature thermophilic anaerobic digestion at 131 degrees Fahrenheit followed by a 24-hour holding period in the batch tanks, sludge cooling, and mesophilic anaerobic digestion at 98 degrees Fahrenheit. The process provides greater solids process capacity and higher-quality Class A biosolids, and the TPAD system allows OCSD to mitigate the seismic risk while maximizing the use of their existing digesters. 

“This important project supports OCSD’s commitment to providing a reliable service to our ratepayers, expanding resource recovery, and prolonging the life of our assets or replacing them with improved technology and innovative solutions,” said OCSD Director of Engineering Kathy Millea. 

$300 Million Project 

The $300 million project involves the construction of six new thermophilic digesters and six new Class A batch tanks at Plant No. 2, allowing the facility to generate Class A biosolids that meet U.S. EPA guidelines for land applications, including fertilizer on farms, vegetable gardens, and for residential use as compost or fertilizer. Digested sludge from the thermophilic digesters or Class Abatch tanks will then be cooled and pumped to the existing mesophilic digesters before dewatering. In the event of a failure of the existing mesophilic digesters (e.g., seismic activity, structural failure), the new thermophilic digesters will be capable of processing all of the plant’s solids, thus mitigating seismic and operational risks with the existing digesters.

The project will offer operational flexibility to feed the existing mesophilic digesters while future projects replace and demolish other mesophilic digesters as identified in the BMP. The project also includes updating the master plan for the ultimate replacement of the existing digester complex.

Brown and Caldwell, in association with Black & Veatch, will develop and provide OCSD with a preliminary and final design for the new TPAD facility at Plant No.2. The final design will include configuration of the designated facilities, facility parameters, operation and maintenance information, and calculations required for construction.

“Our highly qualified team is thrilled to have been chosen for this project which represents a unique opportunity for OCSD to implement a next-generation biosolids facility in sync with its long-term goals,” said Brown and Caldwell Principal-in-Charge Dan Bunce.

After the design phase concludes by summer 2024, construction and commissioning of the TPAD facility is expected to start in 2025 and be complete by 2030.

No Government Shutdown This Time

President Trump signed the stopgap funding bill to keep the government running through December 11, avoiding the specter of another government shutdown. There was some nitpicking about the signing ceremony happening after the 2020 fiscal year’s “technical” end, but the Office of Management and Budget never declared a government shutdown.

The bill passed the House of Representatives on a vote of 359-57 in late September and sailed through the Senate on an 84-10 approval hours before couriered to the White House for Trump’s imprimatur.

The bipartisan vote in both Houses of Congress on the Continuing Resolution (CR) came after Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Trumps’ negotiator, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, reached a deal to include increased funding for nutrition assistance and trade relief payments for farmers. The CR ensures that most federal program levels hold steady at the FY20 levels, prorated until December when this CR expires.

Where’s the Money? 

In terms of water project funding, it maintains Army Corps of Engineer program money and keeps the FY20 levels of $1.6 billion for the Clean Water SRF and $1.3 billion for the Drinking Water SRF

For transportation, the CR includes a one-year extension of surface transportation funding known as the Fixing America’s Transportation (FAST) Act. The extension maintains surface transportation programs at current $47.1 billion for highway programs and $12.3 billion for transit programs and provides a transfer of $14 billion to the Airport and Airway Trust Fund.

The one-year extension of the FAST Act continues policy and spending levels from FY2020. But even though additional year-over-year spending growth is practically zero, the extension includes a $13.6 billion Highway Trust Fund bailout. 

Although the pandemic and resulting reduction in travel briefly caused fuel tax receipts to dip, Congress has deliberately set spending levels well above projected Highway Trust Fund revenue since 2008. Including the latest extension, Highway Trust Fund general fund bailouts over the last 12 years now total $153.5 billion. The traditional “pay-as-you-go” Highway Trust Fund had been replaced by a bailout-to-bailout new normal.

CR’s Are Not-So-New Normal

Continuing resolutions have become the new normal, as Congress has consistently failed to pass a full budget in “regular order” by the fiscal year deadline on September 30.

From fiscal years 1998 to 2019, a total of 117 continuing resolutions (CRs) were enacted into law, ranging from two to 21 CRs passed per year. To avoid a shutdown on Dec. 12, lawmakers and the Trump administration will need to pass either another CR or a dozen fiscal 2021 funding bills.

State Agencies to End ‘Offensive’ Names

California state agencies embarked on a quest to change the names of state parks and transportation system roads and place names under the heading of eliminating “offensive” place names from the California lexicon in an announcement in late September.

California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot, State Parks Director Armando Quintero and Department of Transportation Director Toks Omishakin jointly announced a series of actions to “identify and redress discriminatory names” of features attached to the State Parks and transportation systems. According to the announcement, agencies also will “expand representation and increase transparency” around a state committee tasked with recommending changes to geographic names in California.

The moves come in the wake of a national conversation about the names of geographic features, markers and statues affiliated with the Civil War, the genocide of Native Americans and other remnants of institutionalized discrimination. These steps dovetail with additional measures announced by Governor Gavin Newsom to mark Native American Day in California following the Governor’s formal apology to Native Americans last year.

“The Governor fundamentally changed the way Californians grapple with the difficult beginnings of this State when he formally apologized to California Native Americans last June,” said Christina Snider, the Governor’s Tribal Advisor and Executive Secretary to the Native American Heritage Commission. 

“For California Native Americans who have survived generations of depredations against our very existence, these disparaging and dehumanizing names serve as a constant reminder that we were never intended to be part of the California dream. The leadership of the California Natural Resources Agency and the Department of Transportation in furthering these corrective initiatives demonstrates the State’s real commitment to act on the promise of the Governor’s apology, heal relationships and work to make historically dispossessed communities whole.” 

Secretary Crowfoot said it is past time to revisit historical names that stem from a dark legacy that includes discrimination, violence and inequity. 

“Recent protests over racial inequality have spurred a national conversation about institutional and systemic racism in the United States. That conversation includes a new reckoning over monuments, symbols and names found in our public spaces,” Secretary Crowfoot said. “We are committed to continuing this dialogue openly and transparently.” 

Crowfoot is directing the Natural Resources Agency to expand the membership of the California Advisory Committee on Geographic Names (CACGN) by adding members designated by the Native American Heritage Commission, California State Library, California African American Museum and California Department of Transportation, as well as the legislative Selective Committee on Native American Affairs and Black, Latino and Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucuses. 

Simultaneously, the California Department of Parks and Recreation has begun to inventory “racist” markers and names of features within the State Parks system. State Parks is developing a process to assess the list and solicit input on potential name changes. State Parks also is refining plans in consultation with Tribes and other groups to update interpretive signage, exhibits and educational materials for student programs. 

“This is a generational moment that calls for the California Department of Parks and Recreation to take stock of and critically examine our state’s historical legacy,” Director Quintero said. “We want every Californian, whether they are firstgeneration or the 500th generation, to feel welcome in parks and see stories shared by all voices.”

As part of the announcement, Caltrans will carry out a detailed review of all named assets located on the state transportation system and develop a proposal identifying those to be renamed or rescinded.