August 2, 2012
By Arya Harsono
The last thing you could imagine toilet water to be is drinkable. Los Angeles County toilets, however, are clean enough to be consumed by humans without any major health complications. This is because of the thorough water management processes handled at Los Angeles’ Hyperion Treatment Plant, located on the city’s coast. The plant does not only deal with cleaning out waste water, it also takes out solid pollutants and reuses them as fertilizer, while also protecting the marine environment surrounding the establishment. Founded in the late 1800’s, the Hyperion Treatment Plant has been an important part of Los Angeles’ history. The plant originally ran up until the 1950s when a population boom occurred in the city, forcing the operators to halt many of their treatment processes.
For 30 years, sludge had built up in Californian waters and, in 1980, the city of Los Angeles launched a $1.6 billion seven-year secondary treatment program to collect the polluting biosolids in order to prevent them from entering the Bay. Since then, the biodiversity inhabiting the area around Hyperion has increased significantly along with an additional 95% reduction in biosolid waste (LAsewers.org). The city’s government has since realized the importance of waste management and has allowed Hyperion to flourish in its ecological activities, hoping to restore the damage it has once done on the Californian coast.
All of Los Angeles’ sewers lead to the Hyperion Treatment Plant, where they undergo multiple filtration processes. Most treatment plants undergo at least four stages of water treatment, but Hyperion Treatment Plant only reaches the secondary treatment stage before it dumps its over 600 million gallons of water into the ocean. Nothing to worry about though: the cleansed water has been modified so that it does not negatively affect saline waters.
The Hyperion Treatment Plant’s water cleansing process is slow but effective. The millions of gallons of sewage from Californian residents enter the plant’s head-works system, which is uses large piston-driven machines to separate large solids from the water. This is known as the primary treatment stage. After the water has been screen through the first stage, it is then poured into a cylindrical pit where it undergoes the secondary treatment. This stage in the process is painstakingly unhurried, as it carefully removes any silt, sediment, or scum discharge that may have evaded the primary treatment. In this stage, bacteria that consume remaining microscopic organic material are introduced to the waters, to further purify it. This water is then purged into the ocean, where it will continue to be a part of the hydrological cycle once more.
But environmentalists find the process’ results insufficient. More could be done to ensure water conservation and ecological benefit. Why not reuse the water for irrigation or crops? What about hydropower? It appears that gallons of water are being wasted when they could be reused or recycled. Statistically, only about 10% is returned to residential water systems. This is because transporting water back up into the city would require a great deal of effort involving commercial trucks, which could ironically be a negative impact on the environment rather than a way to preserve it. Hydroelectricity mills are also a seemingly rational use for the gallons of water being dumped into the ocean. The electricity generated from these mills could potentially power the plant and provide it with self-sufficient electrical energy, until the water runs out that is. All of these potential conflicts with the ways that one could improve the resulting water from Hyperion demonstrates the complexity behind energy sustainability while maintaining human society. The Hyperion Treatment Plant and the Los Angeles County government are continuously working hard on finding appropriate solutions to the ecological problems they must now face.
“LA Sewers.” LA Sewers. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 July 2012. <http://www.lasewers.org/treatment_plants/hyperion/index.htm>.
About the author: Arya Harsono is an undergraduate student at USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences taking a B.S. in Environmental Studies. His passions can be found submerged deep in the abyss of the ocean, where no man (or woman) will ever take it from him.