An Incredible History of LA's Hyperion Water Resource Recovery Facility

There’s a long story posted on The Awl over the weekend which covers the incredible history of the City of Los Angeles’ famous Hyperion Treatment Plant. The author takes a cultural history viewpoint on the construction cycles, limits, successes and failures of the facility over its 100 years of operation.

Here’s one passage about a Milwuakee wastewater engineer touring the newly upgraded facility in 1951:

Engineers loved, visited, and wrote about the plant, too, but read it somewhat differently. Roger Sutherland, a Milwaukee Sewerage Commissioner, made a pilgrimage to the plant. After praising Hyperion’s state-of-the-art technology, beautiful grounds, and competent management, Sutherland went on to suggest the next steps: Reworking the sludge production part of the plant to make it capable of producing more fertilizer, and upping the water treatment steps another notch to allow for the “salvage” of the wastewater in the name of re-use within the city. Sutherland doesn’t frame Hyperion as the definitive, triumphant solution to the city’s torrent of wastewater, but as just another innovation in a long line of coming, inevitable improvements. Two strands of thinking seem to underpin this position: a characteristic mid-century faith in engineering’s ability to bring a better future into being, and an instinct to understand infrastructure as an ongoing process rather than a fixed achievement.


The City of LA’s Hyperion Treatment (credit: The Awl). The Scattergood power generation facility is in the far left background and uses biogas from Hyperion to generate clean electricity.

The author Sayd Randle is a Doctoral Candidate at Yale University. She’s fascinated by the intersection of infrastructure, people and history and has a gift for writing. Here’s another paragraph that may cause some wastewater professionals to pause and reflect:

As expectations for what a city government should be doing to protect public space from contamination have grown, faith in the technologies, engineers, and bureaucratic systems tasked with these responsibilities has crumbled. Which raises the question: What kinds of wastewater management arrangements will the public demand in the future, and what technologies and institutions will be deemed adequate to guarding the crucial boundaries between people and their wastes?

Read the full story on The Awl…

Okay that’s a good question and an interesting way to view the current state of infrastructure and water professionals. How would you answer her question? Let us know in the comments section below.

We had a chance to interview Sayd, click here to her Q&A

About the Author

Alec Mackie

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