In the late 1800s, wastewater from the small Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles was conveyed from the center of town through natural waterways to the ocean.
In response to objections from swimmers and visitors to Santa Monica’s beaches over raw sewage in their bathing waters in 1925, the City of Los Angeles built and started operating the first treatment facility at the Hyperion site: a simple screening plant.
LA’s Population Explodes
During World War II, several miles of beach in front of the plant were quarantined because of near-shore discharge of what was still essentially raw sewage. After the war, plans for a full secondary treatment plant at the Hyperion site were developed, eventually funded, and built. When the new Hyperion Treatment Plant opened in 1950, it included full secondary treatment processes and biosolids processing to produce a heat-dried fertilizer. It was among the first in the world to capitalize on the energy values of biogas by operating anaerobic digesters, which have yielded a fuel gas by-product for over 50 years. At the time, Hyperion was the first large secondary treatment plant on the West Coast, and one of the most modern facilities in the world.
At that point in our history, the population of Los Angeles exploded. To keep up with growth and the resultant higher flows, treatment levels were cut back to enable Hyperion’s operators to process the rising volume of wastewater using the available facilities. By 1957, the new plant was discharging a blend of secondary and primary effluent through a five-mile ocean outfall. Hyperion then stopped its biosolids-to-fertilizer program and began discharging digested sludge into the Bay through a separate seven-mile ocean outfall.
Going to Full Secondary
Discharging 25 million pounds of wastewater solids per month began to take its toll on the marine life in Santa Monica Bay. Samples of the ocean floor where sludge had been discharged for 30 years demonstrated that the only living creatures were worms and a hardy species of clam. The City of Los Angeles launched the Sludge-out to Full Secondary program in 1980. The $1.4 billion construction program replaced nearly every 1950-vintage wastewater processing system at Hyperion while the plant continuously treated 350 mgd and met all NPDES permit requirements.
The massive effort meant the end of spills at Hyperion; a 95% reduction in the amount of wastewater solids going into Santa Monica Bay; the elimination of the Bay’s ecological dead-zone near the mouth of the sludge outfall; vast improvements in biological integrity of the bottom-dwelling marine community; remarkable increases in the relative abundance of many indicator-species; and partnerships among the public, regulatory agencies, government and discharges that led to one of the great environmental achievements of the 20th Century.