Clean Water for Silicon Valley

Clean Water for Silicon Valley
As program manager for the city of Sunnyvale's $900M Cleanwater Program, CDM Smith is helping the innovation hub achieve envi­ron­men­tal stewardship, technology imple­men­ta­tion and community, financial and political support.
The city of Sunnyvale, California sits in the heart of Silicon Valley and has a well-earned reputation as an innovation hub. The city is home to major offices for LinkedIn, Google, Apple, 23andMe and dozens of other technology companies. And yet, Sunnyvale found itself in the mid-2010s with a wastewater treatment facility founded in 1956 and rapidly aging wastewater infra­struc­ture at odds with its high-tech and envi­ron­men­tally conscious community spirit. To bring its wastewater infra­struc­ture in alignment with its values, the city launched the 25-year, $900 million Sunnyvale Cleanwater Program.

The Cleanwater Program has many intertwined components, but those elements will come together to deliver three key benefits to the city. First, it will affirm and support Sunnyvale’s commitment to envi­ron­men­tal stewardship. The quality of the reclaimed water that Sunnyvale discharges to local tidal sloughs, and from there to the San Francisco Bay, will be dramat­i­cally improved. Organic material that’s currently being sent to landfills, like food scraps from restaurants, would be delivered in the future to an upgraded plant for codigestion. The plant will generate renewable energy, which will both increase its resiliency and decrease its use of fossil fuels. And, the plant will meet or exceed California’s strict air quality require­ments, reducing its greenhouse gas emissions substan­tially.
size of the Cleanwater Program
length of the Program, in years
low-interest loan secured from USEPA
CDM Smith senior vice president Jan Davel, Ph.D., PE, PMP is serving as program manager, drawing upon decades of experience in water treatment and conveyance experience to help steer the Cleanwater Program to success. As Davel explained, Sunnyvale’s priority is not merely to meet regulations. “In many cases the community is passionate about going beyond what’s required—whether that’s greenhouse gas emissions, water quality, or energy efficiency. This is a community that is attuned to its envi­ron­men­tal impact, and they want to be good stewards of the Bay.”

Second, the program will implement innovative tech­nolo­gies to create new benefits, advance efficiency and open new oppor­tu­ni­ties for collab­o­ra­tion. Currently, the Sunnyvale plant is producing an average of 0.8 million gallons of recycled water per day to more than 100 sites, and the Cleanwater Program team is considering oppor­tu­ni­ties for a broader water reuse program in the future. The facility is producing more than 2,500 dry tons of nutrient-rich biosolids in a typical year, the majority of which are applied to agri­cul­tural fields as fertilizer. To take advantage of new tech­nolo­gies, Davel explains, “We have to be nimble, we have to be flexible, we have to adjust, we’re constantly rearranging significant outcomes to take advantage of what’s around the bend.” And considering that every square inch in the Valley is hugely valuable, the team is taking “extreme care,” as Davel puts it, to maximize the use of existing space and set aside some real estate for future oppor­tu­ni­ties that may arise over the coming decades, whether that’s with regard to energy recovery, water reuse or as-yet-unforeseen tech­nolo­gies.

Project manager Erin McGuire, PE has supported infra­struc­ture projects around the U.S. throughout her fifteen-year career; she is serving as deputy program manager on the Sunnyvale program. As McGuire explained, exploring and imple­ment­ing new tech­nolo­gies takes a wide array of resources that any munic­i­pal­ity would find a challenge to obtain, let alone a city with a high-priced labor market like Sunnyvale. “CDM Smith provides wastewater treatment, bioenergy, water reuse, permitting expertise and more from around the globe, and our job is to put those resources on-call for Sunnyvale.” And, as McGuire was quick to add, the benefits go both ways: “So many people have grown in their careers through working with Sunnyvale, it’s incredible,” said McGuire. “It’s such an ambitious program, and we’ve built such strong trust with the client, that our colleagues are able to take on new and challenging tasks and learn from the experience.”
CDM Smith provides wastewater treatment, bioenergy, water reuse, permitting expertise and more from around the globe, and our job is to put those resources on-call for Sunnyvale.
Erin McGuire, project manager, pe for cdm smith
Ambitious infra­struc­ture programs are easy enough to dream up, but far harder to pay for. That’s why the third key element of this program is achieving community, political and financial support for the effort. The team has gone to great lengths to provide voluminous yet compre­hen­si­ble data for budgeting and permitting approval. The result has been strong and collab­o­ra­tive work with local decision-makers and state envi­ron­men­tal regulators.

CDM Smith associate and water resources planner Andria Loutsch is part of a team helping Sunnyvale to obtain grants and loans for its program. As she explains, “Budgeting for a program like this is always a challenge for any munic­i­pal­ity but putting in this investment now will keep the community from spending a larger amount of money in the future by preventing large failures or expensive fines.”

The team’s work paid off when Sunnyvale secured a $221M low-interest federal loan from US EPA in late 2020. This loan will finance nearly half the cost of the Cleanwater Program and is earmarked for secondary treatment upgrades and reha­bil­i­ta­tion for improved water quality, biosolids processing and handling facilities, support facilities, and improving the plant’s energy efficiency. The loan, said city manager Kent Steffens, “saves our ratepayers money and gives us valuable funding flexibility…Securing this loan is a testament to that continued support and our team’s hard work on the renovation master plan.”

“Between grants and loans, we’ve saved the city almost $200M,” said McGuire. “With half a billion dollars in grants and loans—when you combine the debt service on that, and the low-interest loans— we’re cutting their debt service almost in half.”

CDM Smith and Sunnyvale are in it for the long haul. In 2023, Phase 1 of the project is expected to be completed, with total project completion anticipated in 2042.

Jan Davel Jan Davel
We have to be nimble, we have to be flexible—we’re constantly rearranging significant outcomes to take advantage of what’s around the bend.
Jan Davel Senior Vice President, Program Manager

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