PETALUMA -- Lagunitas Brewing Co. wants to build its own process-wastewater treatment plant to handle the expected growth of its brewery in the next several years, and Petaluma and business leaders are exploring whether additional industrial wastewater treatment capacity is needed to accommodate current food and beverage companies as well as attract more.

Lagunitas in early January purchased 3.14 vacant acres two properties south of the brewery on North McDowell Boulevard. The land will be partly used for parking and staging trucks serving the brewery and potentially for more warehousing, according to President Tony Magee. But primarily, the beer company is preparing to obtain permits to build a treatment system in the next year or so that would handle the high levels of organic matter in brewery process wastewater that cause problems for municipal treatment systems if discharged directly into the sewer.

"I can see us growing three to four times in size in the next five to 10 years, and there is no way that would work with the current ... system," Mr. Magee said. 

Because of such high-strength organic wastewater, breweries commonly pretreat it to municipal standards -- commonly measured for biological oxygen demand (BOD) and total suspended solids (TSS)  -- before releasing it into a sewer, he said. What Lagunitas, wineries and other food and beverage producers in North Coast urban areas don't find feasible to treat to those levels is held in tanks then trucked to facilities set up to accept large amounts of industrial-strength organic waste, such as East Bay Municipal Utility District, certain agricultural companies and Sonoma County's planned Farms to Fuel plant.

The city of Petaluma in its November 2010 economic development plan identified food and beverage processing as a key industry cluster to support and grow, because of local agriculture and the city's central North Bay location for Bay Area distribution. When the city's new economic development manager, Ingrid Alverde, started reaching out to such local companies in the middle of last year, she heard a major concern for existing and new companies was industrial wastewater disposal.

"One of our goals is to make the process easier and more competitive for them to grow and employ more people," Ms. Alverde said.

Problem is, process wastewater from beer, wine, meat, dairy, bakery and similar businesses often have different strengths and organic compounds and can come in surges during batch production, making treatment very difficult for biologically based municipal systems designed for a steady stream of waste at the same rate and temperature, according to Rem Scherzinger, interim director of the city Water Resources and Conservation Department. And fats, oil and grease must be captured to avoid clogging the sewer pipes.

Capacity is a key concern for such companies considering Petaluma, he said.

"We get questions like, 'Do you have water and do you have sewer?'" he said.

The city is considering options for industrial wastewater, Mr. Scherzinger said. It's in the process of requesting an expansion of its allowed BOD limits in its permit from the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board. The new Ellis Creek treatment plant could be set up to hold industrial process wastewater in tanks and run it in batches, if enough users opted for that. Another possibility is to use two biodigesters at the older Hopper Street treatment plant, but they were built in 1932.

Mr. Magee has started talks with the city about using his planned treatment plant for other industrial processors in the city.

Lagunitas purchased the three acres from Regency Centers, which acquired it in case it would have to build a community swim center to replace one at Kenilworth Park that was originally planned to be demolished to make way for the forthcoming Target-anchored East Washington Place regional shopping center, according to Tom Laugero, who with fellow Keegan & Coppin partner Chris Castellucci, brokered the land sale. Regency ended up designing the project around the park.