Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant: Overview  ...next >
On May 9, 2024, our group from Resilient Palisades toured the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant in Playa del Rey.  Hyperion, run by the City of Los Angeles Sanitation & Environment (LASAN), covers 144 acres and processes 260-275 million gallons of influent liquid wastewater and sewage including 1 million pounds of solids daily.  Hyperion can handle up to 450 million gallons daily, and up to 800 million gallons in wet weather. 

The sign at the Hyperion's front gate labels it as a "water reclamation plant" rather than a "sewage treatment plant," which is what I've always thought of it as.  In his excellent senior thesis from 2021, Pomona College student William Stone delved into history of, and perceptions and attitudes toward the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant and toward sewage treatment generally.  Being a thesis, Stone's work has a fair bit of academic jargon, but he also waxes lyrical, discussing Hyperion's "effects on our psyche" and imagining a utopian Hyperion.  Stone describes the Hyperion plant as "an almost unknowable infrastructure."  Our Resilient Palisades group was very fortunate to have senior environmental engineer Sheri Symons show us around and give us some understanding of functioning of the plant. 

Senior environmental engineer Sheri Symons patiently showed us around the plant, answering many questions.

Hyperion's origins trace back to 1894, when an outfall at Dockweiler Beach, which is at a natural low point, was put in to discharge sewage from Los Angeles into Santa Monica Bay.  In 1925 a screening plant was built, but at that point and through the first half of the 20th century it was still raw sewage going into the ocean.  It is a bit scary to read accounts of the polluted beaches.  Finally in 1950 the modern Hyperion facility was built.  In the 1990s significant upgrades were made to ensure secondary treatment was Clean Water Act compliant.  Now there are ambitious plans to transform Hyperion to recycle 100% of wastewater to potable water by 2035.  In addition to Hyperion, three smaller plants serve parts of the Los Angeles area: the Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plant in the San Fernando Valley, the Los Angeles Glendale Water Reclamation Plant, adjacent to the Eastern edge of Griffith Park, and the Terminal Island Collection System and Treatment Plant.  Hyperion staff numbers around 372 people. 

A key point to understand about Hyperion (and other modern sewage treatment plants) is that the incoming wastewater (influent) ends up being processed in two treatment streams, one for solids and one for liquids. 

  • -Large solid material and grit are trucked to landfill while as many as 30 truckloads of treated biosolids (sludge) daily are transported to the 4,688 acre Green Acres Farm in Kern County west of Bakersfield to fertilize feed crops.  It is hard to believe, but up until 1987 sludge was discharged into Santa Monica Bay through a seven-mile outfall pipe.  Use of sludge for agriculture was controversial, and Kern County engaged in a decade-long legal battle against the City of Los Angeles which finally ended in 2016.

  • -Most of the treated water goes out into Santa Monica Bay through the five-mile outfall pipe where it is released at a depth of 180-190 feet.  A smaller volume goes to the Edward C. Little Water Recycling Facility in El Segundo, where it is directed to industrial and irrigation purposes.  

Another interesting point about Hyperion is that it uses a huge amount of energy, about 20 MW/day, but is energy self sufficient.  A co-generation facility (biogas power plant) completed in 2016 uses the gases produced by the giant egg-shaped anaerobic digesters to produce steam and electricity, while at the same time reducing emissions.  Treatment combines natural processes and technology.  Indeed, Hyperion is a great place to learn about chemistry, biology and physics.  For example, in primary treatment, ferric chloride helps flocculate (form clusters) and coagulate particles such as heavy metals.  In secondary treatment, use of high purity oxygen produced by the on-site cryogenic facility enhances the activity of microbes (+).  Around the plant, gravity is frequently used to move liquid flows; additionally Archimedes screw pumps move primary effluent to secondary treatment.

As with any infrastructure system, problems can arise.  The most dramatic episode occurred on July 11, 2021 when the primary treatment screens were overwhelmed by solid waste, leading to untreated wastewater flooding more than half the Hyperion plant, seriously damaging electrical systems and equipment, and sending 12.5 million gallons of sewage into Santa Monica Bay.  On the day of our tour, May 9, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health reported that approximately 14,400 gallons of untreated sewage was released into nearby Ballona Creek, leading the department to issue an "ocean water use warning" for area beaches; the details of how and where the leak happened were not clear.  Hyperion faces a steady stream of maintenance costs due to corrosion and wear and tear on equipment.  At a time when the City of Los Angeles faces a significant budget shortfall, officials should remember that making short-sighted cuts could ultimately lead to small or large disasters in future.

Finally, there is the very ambitious Hyperion 2035 plan, which has a projected cost of $3-3.5 billion.  The project is in its early stages, but a decade from now the Hyperion plant could have a very different look as promising technologies such as membrane bioreactors are implemented.  There will no doubt be challenges—from the presence of microplastics and PFAS (forever chemicals) to just getting people to accept the notion of reclaimed water—but if the plan is realized, it could go a long way towards meeting Los Angeles' water needs. 

                                  Tour: Headworks Hyperion
                                  Tour: Primary Treatment Hyperion
                                  Tour: Secondary Treatment
                                  Tour: Effluent Pumping Plant Hyperion
                                  Tour: Anaerobic Digesters Hyperion
                                  Tour: Thickening
Hyperion Tour: Advanced Water
                                  Treatment Hyperion Tour: Odor Control Hyperion Tour: Pipes
Hyperion Tour: Maintenance Hyperion Tour: Admin. and More Hyperion Tour: Environmental
                                  Learning Center

See also:
Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant

"Hyperion - What You Need to Know."  City of El Segundo.

"List of largest water treatment plants."  Wikipedia.

The Wastewater Blog (Rick Fuller)

William R. Stone, "Optical Hygiene and Modernity: A Site Analysis of Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant Using Lefebvre’s Triad" (2021). Pomona Senior Theses. 257.

Anna Sklar.  BROWN ACRES: An Intimate History of the Los Angeles Sewers.  Santa Monica, Angel City Press, 2008.

Hyperion 2035
"Hyperion 2035."  LASAN.  (Fact Sheet, MBR Pilot Video).

"What is Operation NEXT."  LADWP.

"Hyperion 2035 Program."  Stantec.

"Hyperion Advanced Water Purification Facility (CA)."  Water Collaborative Delivery Association.

2021 Spill

Michael K. Stenstrom.  "Report of the Ad Hoc Advisory Committee Advisors on the July 11, 2021, Flooding at the Hyperion Reclamation Plant and Recommendations for Future Improvements."  Los Angeles Board of Public Works, Feb. 11, 2022.

—.  "First Anniversary of Hyperion Spill Highlights Progress, Work Still to be Done."  Los Angeles Waterkeeper, July 7, 2022.

Luke Ginger.  "One Year Anniversary of the Hyperion Plant Spill."  Heal the Bay, July 11, 2022.

Rebekah Kearn.  "L.A. County Prevails Over Kern in 10-Year Legal War."  Courthouse News Service, Dec. 9, 2016.

"City of Los Angeles v. County of Kern."  National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), updated Jan. 19, 2017.

"Toxic Sludge."  The Center for Media and Democracy's Food Rights Network.

1990s Upgrades
"Hyperion Treatment Plant Sludge Out."  water-technology.net.

Matt King.  "Remembering the 'Sludge Judge.'"  Heal the Bay, Nov. 27, 2017.

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