SFPUC’s Southeast Treatment Plant Headworks Project

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s Southeast Treatment Plant Headworks Project Earns Envision Gold for Sustainable Infrastructure

A rendering of the future Headworks facility which includes a large integrated artwork by artist Norie Sato. [Rendering: Norie Sato, 2018]

The Southeast Treatment Plant New Headworks Facility Project owned by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) in San Francisco, California is the recent recipient of the Envision Gold award for sustainable infrastructure, designated by the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI). To reach Gold status, a project must demonstrate that it delivers a heightened range of environmental, social, and economic benefits to the host and affected communities.

“Being the first public infrastructure project in the City and County of San Francisco to earn an Envision Gold Award is a tremendous accomplishment,” said Harlan L. Kelly, Jr., SFPUC General Manager. “This achievement affirms our agency’s long-standing sustainability policies and procedures and is a reflection of our commitment to the well-being of the communities where our facilities are located.”

Project context and scope

The Headworks Facility is part of the Southeast Treatment Plant (SEP), San Francisco’s oldest and largest all-weather wastewater treatment facility that treats 80% of the City’s combined flow. The project consists of a new state-of-the-art Headworks Facility that can handle up to 250 million gallons per day during peak wet weather. The new Headworks Facility will replace two aging headworks facilities and will meet the Level of Service goals established by the SFPUC to address the needs of various stakeholders, including the community:

  • improving the removal efficiency of screenings and grit from influent wastewater to protect downstream processes;
  • reducing operations and maintenance costs over the life of the facility;
  • increasing operational flexibility to address varied operating conditions (e.g., varied load and flow conditions);
  • increasing reliability and resiliency;
  • protecting the community from odor and noise impacts;
  • benefiting the neighborhood both functionally and aesthetically; and
  • accommodating climate change, including expected sea level rise.

SFPUC is working in close collaboration with Carollo Engineers, Inc. (Design Engineer) and Sundt/Walsh (General Contractor) to deliver this award-winning sustainable project.

The Envision system examines the impact of sustainable infrastructure projects as a whole, through five distinct categories: Quality of Life, Leadership, Resource Allocation, Natural World, and Climate and Resilience. These key areas contribute to the positive social, economic, and environmental impacts on a community.

“This award and the positive elements of the project are a direct result of the SFPUC’s goal of being a good neighbor,” explains Jignesh Desai, Project Manager for the project. “As part of the Sewer System Improvement Program, as we are upgrading and modernizing our critical wastewater facilities, we are leveraging these investments to support community and environment, people and place. It is a win-win for the agency and the community and this award acknowledges this approach as the right thing to do.”

Key factors contributing to the SEP Headworks Facility project earning an Envision Gold award include:

Developing local skills and capabilities: This project makes substantial contributions to developing skills and capabilities of residents in the local Bayview community within San Francisco. The project team has, for example, made significant commitments to hiring locally, placing an emphasis on hiring from historically disadvantaged groups. Additionally, new training and educational programs are being developed and implemented to improve the long-term competitiveness of the community. For example, the owner implemented the CityWorks Internship Program to introduce interns to the professional services and disciplines necessary to deliver a project like this including engineering and design, with a focus on women and underrepresented minorities. This program allows students between the ages of 15-19 who live in close proximity to the project site to experience an 8-week paid internship. Interns are able to work on the project, tour the facilities, and access support for post-secondary programs and professional development services, benefits that will continue long after the completion of this project.

In addition, the SFPUC established the Social Impact Partnership program, similar in many ways to Corporate Social Responsibility programs. The contractor is making a $3.15 million investment in workforce development through job training and opportunities programming and investing an additional $1.35 million in local community economic development through small, local business training.

Engaging stakeholders: Stakeholders were identified early on, allowing the SEP Headworks Facility project team to engage them in meaningful ways throughout project planning, design, and delivery. The team has, for example, conducted more than 100 presentations of the project at community meetings, business briefings, door-to-door outreach, and various other community events; accommodated nearly 5,000 attendees for site tours; and reached more than 2 million people on social media. Stakeholder input was sought and incorporated into the project by the project team. Overarching feedback from stakeholders included a strong desire to have access to more educational opportunities related to the project, to incorporate sustainability into the project design, and to create an aesthetically pleasing facility that the community could enjoy.

Based on feedback provided, the project team decided to offer plant tours and build decks for viewing facility operations. Sustainability considerations have also been carefully considered and incorporated into the project, including the pursuit of third-party verification against the Envision sustainable infrastructure framework and rating system, resulting in the project earning a Gold award. Also, the team incorporated a 368’ by 30’ high art wall on the perimeter of the Southeast Treatment Plant to respond to stakeholder feedback relating to the aesthetics of the plant.

Addressing climate change: The project team undertook a comprehensive assessment of climate change threats that could occur over the life of the facility and designed the project to take into account changing future conditions. For example, the SEP Headworks Facility is designed to adapt to a large range of operating flows such as during extreme drought and during periods of peak wet weather. The Facility is also designed to prevent damages from a 100-year storm surge with up to 66 inches of sea level rise. Flood-proofing features incorporated into the design of the project include the elevation of the floor level and other wall penetrations; the use of water-resistant materials of construction; placing electrical, heating, ventilation, plumbing and other equipment at higher elevations to avoid inundation; and structural design elements to handle the impacts.

“The SEP Headworks Facility project team has done an outstanding job responding to the needs and goals of the local community, including establishing a lasting relationship with community stakeholders through training and educational opportunities,” said Melissa Peneycad, ISI’s Managing Director. “On behalf of ISI, I am pleased to recognize the SEP Headworks Facility with an Envision Gold award. Congratulations to the project team on this fantastic achievement.”


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