Construction is underway on a $53 million upgrade of the Laguna County Sanitation District Wastewater Reclamation Plant that services Orcutt and rural Santa Maria and will serve the new Northern Branch Jail when it opens for business.

The plant, located west of the intersection of Dutard and Black roads northwest of Orcutt, was last upgraded in 2001 to comply with regulatory requirements.

But it still has facilities from its original construction in 1959 that have exceeded their useful lives, said Santa Barbara County Public Works Department spokesman Lael Wageneck.

Currently, the plant serves a population of about 35,000 people in the 3rd and 4th supervisorial districts and processes 1.8 million gallons of wastewater per day collected from 12,000 business and residential customers over 128 miles of pipelines.

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“This is a 60-year-old piece of equipment, and it’s time to get this updated,” said 4th District Supervisor Peter Adam. “When I came into office, some people questioned why we needed a new plant. The lack of opposition today is a good indication that we convinced Orcutt ratepayers of the value of this project.”

Utility service charges were adjusted over several years to generate capital reserves to fund most of the work and help the county qualify for lower interest rates on certificates of participation to pay for the rest.

In the first phase of construction, the plant will receive a new headworks, ultraviolet disinfection break tank, a laboratory and operations building, activated sludge and secondary clarifier process facilities, onsite storm water facilities and electrical improvements.

The W.M. Lyles Co. was awarded the contract for the project.

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Once the upgrades are completed, anticipated in 2023, the plant will comply with Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board requirements and master recycling permits for the next 50 years, Wageneck said.

Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino pointed out the upgrades will benefit the area’s water supply, since all water recycled by the plant is used for irrigation and industry.

“With surface water becoming scarce and expensive, maximizing water efficiency is vital to our parks, facilities and agriculture,” Lavagnino said.

“Laguna Sanitation’s recycled water is an essential drought-resistant supply for our residents and visitors in the Santa Maria Valley.”

The second phase of the project to increase the plant’s treatment capacity from 3.7 million to 5 million gallons per day is in the planning stage.

Wageneck said the expansion is expected to meet the demands from full buildout of the Orcutt Community Plan.

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Laguna County Sanitation District was formed in 1958 after Camp Cook was converted to Vandenberg Air Force Base, resulting in a housing boom, Wageneck said.

The district absorbed the Orcutt Sanitary District and some of the wastewater system that had been served by the Santa Maria-Lompoc Air Base, now Santa Maria Public Airport, treatment plant that disbanded in 1977.

For more information about Laguna County Sanitation District, visit