July 27, 2012

Photo Essay: Hyperion Wastewater Treatment Plant

Am I a student? No.

Am I a city employee? No.

I just like to take tours.

Fortunately, Hyperion Treatment Plant - one of four wastewater treatment plants in the city of LA, and the largest west of the Mississippi in terms of volume of wastewater processed (300 million gallons per day) - allowed me to come and take some photos of their facility, something you can only do during the day, during the week.

Fortunately, I'm available during the day, during the week right now.

And there I went.

The plant was originally built in 1925 - a boom decade for Los Angeles - as a screening facility, and opened as a full-fledged secondary treatment plant in 1950. The Clean Water Act of 1972 required Hyperion to make some drastic improvements and modifications to its facility, which took over two decades to complete, and, with varying architecture and industrial design elements, gives the campus a feeling of being three plants in one.

Modern parking structure

Odor control

1950s tanks in the background with modern walkway in foreground

Unused building with modern, colorful exterior piping

Controls inside the Headwaters facility, where wastewater goes first

This probe scoops through the poop to fish out larger, non-organic solids

They try to treat the air to maintain its quality but it still stinks.

Chemical tank: Sodium Hypochlorite

Chemical tank: Ferrous Chloride 

Digester egg w/access tower

Digester egg, where biosolids are digested by bacteria, which destroy pathogens and give off methane

Access tower with anti-reflective windows at the behest of the local community

Lamp post at top of digester egg, with shield to protect local community from light pollution

One row of digester eggs (20 eggs total), the largest field of egg-shaped digesters in the world

Despite being completed in 1998, there are still some rusty relics

Primary Sludge Pump Station

Pipes everywhere

Secondary clarifying tank, empty

Secondary clarifying tank, with water ready for effluent discharge into the ocean, five miles from shore

The Hyperion plant was probably one of the oddest attractions I've visited so far in LA, but it's one of the most integral to our everyday life. And visiting it reminds you that nothing just "goes away" - everything you flush down the toilet or run down the drain ends up somewhere, and depending on where you live, it's likely it ends up at Hyperion, where it's sorted out, chopped up, and sent to a landfill.

Hyperion only processes and treats wastewater, so stormwater is a different matter. What goes into the sewer (sometimes through manholes, which accounts for some of the more bizarre, larger objects they've collected like bowling balls, 2x4s and body parts) goes to Hyperion, gets sorted and treated twice, and once clean, gets pumped out into the ocean, five miles out. What goes in the storm drain goes directly into the ocean, untreated, often right at the shoreline.

So when you throw a candy wrapper out your car window or down the drain, you'll be swimming with it soon enough.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant
Photo Essay: Burbank Water and Power Eco-Campus

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