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City of Burlingame, CA Wastewater Treatment Facility

1999 NCPPP Project Award Winner
Project Location: Burlingame, California
Public Sector Partner: City of Burlingame, Calif.
Private Sector Partner: Veolia Water North America
Contact Name: Christie Kaluza, Marketing Communications Manager, 281.985.5481, christie.kaluza@veoliawaterna.com

Project Summary
Pioneering the privatization of the North American municipal water and wastewater industry, Veolia Water North America (formerly USFilter Operating Services, Inc. and then Envirotech Operating Services, Inc.) and the City of Burlingame, Calif., were the first to enter into a public-private partnership – paving the road for what has become one of the nation’s hottest management trends. In 1972, Burlingame, located just outside of San Francisco, contracted with Veolia to provide full operations services for its 5.5 MGD (million gallons per day) wastewater treatment facility. The partnership recently celebrated its 30-year anniversary.

This was the first time in U.S. history that the management of a municipally-owned wastewater facility was ever transferred to a non-public entity. Over the past three decades, the contract has been consistently renewed, most recently in April 1998, and is due for renewal in July 2003, for two primary reasons:

  • The partnership generates some of the lowest sewer rates in San Mateo County for the 39,000 people it serves.
  • The partnership provides the city with immediate access to experts in the wastewater industry to run its facility effectively and efficiently.

When Veolia began operations of the Burlingame Wastewater Treatment Facility, a program of effective management, maintenance and process control was immediately implemented. Experienced supervisors assigned to solve plant problems worked closely with the city and the design engineer on a secondary activated sludge expansion and a solids dewatering addition. Since then, Veolia has and continues to provide all operations and maintenance of the treatment plant and administration for the city’s industrial waste monitoring program. In addition, as part of the ongoing effort to ensure that the facility is in peak operating condition, Veolia has assisted the city in all of the significant capital improvements of more than $40 million over the last 30 years.

Accommodating Growth
The partnership has evolved and matured as Burlingame has changed. Due to the explosive expansion of the San Francisco International Airport, the city has experienced phenomenal growth in the hotel industry. The number of hotel rooms in the city has jumped from approximately 1,000 to more than 3,000. With about 800 of these hotel rooms located within a mile of the wastewater treatment plant, odor control is obviously a very sensitive issue for the city. Yet, under Veolia operation, the city remarkably reports an absence of complaints.

George Bagdon, director of public works, says the two entities have developed a relationship based on trust and respect. Bagdon appreciates the time-savings as well saying, “My staff and I are ‘generalists,’ and having immediate access to ‘specialist’ to take on the day-to-day operations of the facility has enabled us to focus valuable time on other public works issues.” Private-sector companies can help a community lower or stabilize rates, provide customized solutions and expertise for water treatment and management and continue to maintain operations that are safe and efficient.

Innovative Concepts
Former Burlingame City Manager Dennis Argyres was involved in the partnership for over 20 years. Argyres is on record as saying, “It took a gutsy city council to step out as the first ones in the country to contract private-sector wastewater services, but the city has reaped the benefits of low sewer rates and efficient and safe plant operations through [Veolia’s] innovative concepts and exceptional quality.”

Recently, the city closed a landfill adjacent to the wastewater treatment plant and constructed a city-owned gold driving range and soccer field on the location. Because of the city’s confidence in the partnership, it approached Veolia to operate the closed landfill site’s methane gas recovery unit that treats approximately 31 million cubic feet of gas per year.

Argyres notes that the quality of the work has been as important as the low cost. “With hundreds of Burlingame residents using the recreational facility, we haven’t had an odor complaint in years,” states Argyres.

Multiple Awards
The Burlingame partnership has withstood the test of time and given the industry a strong template for public-private partnerships. The partnership has also received notable recognition for safety and excellence as noted below.

  • 1999 Winner of the National Council for Public-Private Partnerships Award
  • 1999 Outstanding Achievement Award from the U.S. Conference of Mayors
  • Seven consecutive annual awards from the California Water Environment Association for Small Plant Safety/Santa Clara Valley Section and for the State of California in the same category

This first-ever U.S. public-private enterprise has progressively improved in service, safety and compliance to set the standards for other public-private partnerships then, now and in the future.