Students Learn About Nanofiltration at California Membrane Plant Tour

Students Learn About Nanofiltration at California Membrane Plant Tour
Drinking Water Operations Manager Bob Wall discusses the district’s microfiltration and nanofiltration technology with Cal Poly Pomona engineering students William Burrell and Amanda Coker. (Photography by Jeff Crider)

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The clean-water profession does a pretty good job of helping students and other young people understand the water and wastewater treatment business, but it could do even better. 

That’s the opinion of Bob Wall, operations manager at the Yucaipa Valley Water District’s water filtration plant in California where a group of civil engineering students from Cal Poly Pomona toured recently. 

The 12 mgd, $44 million Yucaipa Valley plant came online in 2007 and is one of the first to use nanofiltration technology, which enables the district to treat softer state water project water. As a result, residential water softeners are no longer needed in Yucaipa. 

“As an industry, we do a pretty good job of connecting with students,” Wall says. “But as technologies change, we definitely need people with higher levels of education to run these advanced systems.” 

In encouraging more interaction between water-wastewater utilities and students, however, Wall reminds plant managers that they’d better be prepared for some tough questions. 

“These kids are well-educated,” he says. “They have specific questions. In preparing for a tour, you’d better focus on what type of students they are, anticipate the kind of information they are looking for, and have the right level of people available to talk with them.” 

Wall and his staff did a good job of that, according to Cal Poly student Amanda Coker, who organized the Aug. 1 tour as project manager for a senior project group working on a water treatment plant design. 

“The staff was extremely helpful, much more so than we could have expected,” she says. “The staff members are very proud of the plant, as they should be. They had a lot of input in the design and are extremely knowledgeable on the process.” 

Coker says her group visited Yucaipa because they’re incorporating membrane technology into their design and Yucaipa is the closest surface water plant using nanofiltration. 

“The information gathered during the tour regarding the nanofiltration units has proven to be very helpful,” she adds. “We learned the importance of treating the water as much as possible prior to running it through the nanofiltration process to prevent membrane fouling. We also learned the importance of planning for expansion and incorporating that into the design of the water treatment facility.” 

The tour lasted more than an hour, Wall says. “They came in with quite a good understanding of where they wanted to go and had very good questions. 

“I think we opened their eyes a bit. We’re not using pretreatment with our membranes, and we send our concentrate back into our recycled stream — using it for in-house purposes and for landscaping.” 

Because of that, Wall explains that Yucaipa operates so as not to remove too much total dissolved solids because it might be harmful to the aquifer and downstream users. “We’ve done a lot of research on that,” he says. “Our water is fairly low in TDS to begin with and we try not to concentrate it any further.” 

Wall also provided the Cal Poly students with detailed information on the layout and design of the drinking water treatment facility, and talked about the numerous companies and consultants that Yucaipa Valley used to help design and equip the facility. 

Jennifer Ares, the district’s water resource manager, provided an overview of the Yucaipa Valley drinking water, wastewater and recycled water operations before the students started the tour. 

All of the information stuck. “You can read about these types of plants, but there is nothing like seeing it first hand and speaking to the people who run it,” says Coker, who plans to work in the water treatment industry once she graduates, and pursue a graduate degree in membrane technology. 

She strongly recommends student groups and treatment plants get together for tours like the one at Yucaipa Valley. 

For a full profile on Yucaipa Valley Water District, visit 

How is your plant actively involved in attracting a younger generation of workers? Post a comment below.


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