A large pipe carries water from ponds at the western edge of Hollister a little over two miles north to irrigate crops around the Hollister Airport. Ducks skim across the water of one large pond while turtles bask at the edge of the clear water. Goldfish swim in a large tank filled with colored pebbles and plants growing in water from the ponds.
A few days earlier, this water had been flushed from toilets in more than 10,000 households.
The city-owned plant that treats Hollister’s wastewater celebrated its 10th birthday last year, and combines its computer-monitored membrane filtration system with the appetites of billions of bacteria to “reclaim” the wastewater for recycling.
The Hollister Water Reclamation Facility, as it’s officially known, is operated and maintained by Veolia North America, a $30 billion private waste, water and energy firm with nearly 170,000 employees worldwide. The giant Hollister facility, thanks to its state-of-the-art design, is run by six licensed operators, with years of experience.
The local water reclamation team has been recognized as Safety Plant of the Year by the Monterey Bay section of the California Water Environment Association “for its commitment to ensuring the plant is operated safely for both employees and the community.”
The award is part of the water association’s annual effort to recognize public water and wastewater facilities for outstanding performance. The Hollister plant is now eligible to win the statewide safety award at the CWEA annual awards conference in April.
In the eight years since Veolia assumed operations, the plant has not recorded a single safety violation.
“We are proud to be recognized with this award, which is a reflection of the commitment and dedication of the outstanding team of people we have in Hollister,,” said Bill DiCroce, Veolia North America president and CEO, in a statement.
The plant manager, Jim Heitzman, lives in Monterey. All other members of the team live in Hollister.
As a contracted partner with the city, Veolia operates and maintains the Hollister plant, treating domestic, commercial and industrial wastewater and producing reclaimed water for agriculture, which includes table crops such as lettuce and tomatoes, park irrigation, airport greenery and groundwater recharge.
The plant’s treatment capacity is 4 million gallons per day, and currently treats about 2.4 million gallons per day, all from with the city limits. There is room for the plant to add another 2 million gallons of capacity. The effluent—the water discharged from the treatment facility—is basically distilled water, free of all contaminants.
Opening of the new plant in 2008 enabled Hollister to get out of a nearly six-year moratorium on residential growth imposed after a catastrophic sewage spill in 2002.
The plant’s operators are currently monitoring a $1.8 million project to dredge about 2,000 tons of sludge—”biosolids” made up of mostly dead bacteria and treated solid waste—that settled in the bottom of one of the ponds, a process that needs to be done every three years or so.