Water Resource Recovery Facility Shows Resiliency in Face of Recent Storms

Although the Central Coast experienced an intense storm system last week, the City of San Luis Obispo's proactive preparation allowed for minimal disruptions to regular services. This was exemplified by the extraordinary measures taken by the City's Water Resource Recovery Facility (WRRF), where a comprehensive upgrade to the facility—called SLO Water Plus—is currently underway while maintaining full operational capacity.

SLO Water Plus is the City's largest capital investment to date, totaling approximately $111 million in construction costs. Upon the project's completion in 2024, the upgrades and enhancements will provide significant long-term benefits to water quality and the environment. This will be accomplished by the facility's ability to recover resources traditionally classified as waste, improve the facility’s efficiency, and position the City to reduce its dependency on reservoir and groundwater supplies.

Part of the SLO Water Plus project is designed to make the facility more resilient to natural disasters, including remaining in operation during a major storm event. Recent rains have put that design plan to the test, while the facility was already under significant operational constraints from the construction of the new treatment plant. Physical elements of the risk mitigation strategy included provisions for emergency power, emergency pumping, increased chemical performance, system enhancements, as well as numerous operational control procedures and training.

Concentrated and meticulous planning efforts to reduce operational risk began nearly a year ago and included close collaboration and coordination with various City departments including Utilities, Public Works, Finance and City Administration/IT departments. These teams worked collaborated closely to surface several diverse ideas and best practices to prepare the facility to face worst-case scenarios.

"We purposely tried to 'poke 'holes' in the plans along the way so we could identify areas of weakness and make appropriate changes," said Chris Lehman, WRRF Supervisor. "We even worked with our design engineers to create a model that tested our scenarios in a simulation that was calibrated for an event worse than the storm that we saw last week. Had we not taken planning efforts so seriously, we could have faced some serious issues last week at the facility.”

Despite being one of the biggest storms in recent years, these planning efforts, construction, and upgrades to the facility continued without issue. In addition, the facility maintained the highest possible effluent quality, no spills due to increased storm flows occurred, and the community experienced no disruption to its water and wastewater treatment service. While our community will face additional storms in the future, it is expected that the WRRF will handle those with similar results.

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