Reclamation facility planned to improve recycled water

The South Coast Water District will soon be able to produce higher-quality recycled water to irrigate certain types of land, such as golf courses and hotel grounds, for its South Laguna and Dana Point clients.

City leaders and environmental stewards attended a dedication for the Aliso Creek Water Reclamation Facility in Aliso Canyon on April 24. The new structure is adjacent to the district's advanced wastewater treatment facility, which has produced recycled water for landscape irrigation since 1984.

The new reclamation facility will recover and treat urban runoff from Aliso Creek, which empties into the ocean at Aliso Beach Park, and blend it with recycled water from an existing treatment system to reduce the water's salinity.

District General Manager Andrew Brunhart called the expected benefits a "triple win."

"This facility will help reduce the volume of urban runoff that reaches the ocean," Brunhart told the crowd. "It will reduce the salinity of recycled water to create a more irrigation-friendly product, and the demand for potable water will be reduced."

Recycled water is primarily used to irrigate golf courses, parks, school grounds, street medians and other commercial and public landscaped areas.

Former Laguna Beach Mayor Jane Egly thanked Mike Beanan, vice president of the preservationist group South Laguna Civic Assn., and current Councilwoman Toni Iseman for advocating for a facility that has been a decade in the making.

"This has been a long time coming," Egly told the crowd. "There was a point when I wasn't quite sure the water board was going to vote to do it. The board voted for a beautiful project. One of the brilliant parts is it's in the right place. We won't have to pump water up to it, or pump down."

The district has the capacity to treat 300,000 gallons of urban runoff per day from Aliso Creek as "level and flow permit," district spokeswoman Linda Homscheid said. A permit from the state Water Resources Control Board allows the district to pull water from the creek.

An intake pump sits submerged in the creek and has a fine mesh coating to prevent fish from entering and algae and debris from building up.

The water will be filtered several times to remove bacteria, viruses, antibiotics and insecticides.

The biggest change, Homscheid said, is the use of membrane technology, which separates solids, such as salts and minerals, from the liquid.

Creek water will travel through the pump-intake tube and be combined with treated wastewater.

A California Department of Fish and Wildlife permit mandates the district maintain a minimum flow of 4.77 cubic feet per second from the intake point downstream to the ocean, about 1 1/2 miles, Homscheid said.

The district collaborated with several organizations on the facility, including Orange County, South Orange County Wastewater Authority and environmental and community groups.

Construction cost $2.8 million, according to the district. A nearly $500,000 grant from the Water Resources Control Board and $25,000 from the city of Laguna Beach helped fund the project.

The remaining balance will be funded by district reserves, Homscheid said.

The estimated annual operating cost is $385,577, to be covered by recycled water ratepayers, Homscheid said.

The Ranch At Laguna Beach — formerly the Aliso Creek Inn & Golf Course — is under renovation and doesn't currently use recycled water from the district, but that will be changing, General Manager Kurt Bjorkman said.

Resort officials will meet with district staff this week about tapping into the new recycled supply to water 5 acres of hotel grounds, Bjorkman said.

The Ranch currently uses district potable water for all irrigation, including hotel grounds and a nine-hole golf course, owner Mark Christy said.

Resort officials are also strongly considering recycled water for the golf course, providing salinity levels meet standards, Bjorkman said.

"[Course officials] tried recycled water in the 1980s, but salinity levels caused the grass to die," he said. "The mix has to be below a certain level. We're excited about this new supply and are 100% confident it will work [on the course]."

District customers who use recycled water include the Montage Laguna Beach and the Monarch Beach Golf Links in Dana Point.

Golfers would not notice a difference in the grass' appearance with reclaimed water, Bjorkman wrote in a follow-up email.

"With the new and improved mineral and salinity levels, it will be as good as potable," said Bjorkman, who said using recycled water could trim overall costs by 10%.

The Aliso Creek reclamation facility is operational, though no creek water has yet been removed because the water level has been too low, Homscheid said.

District staff members are conducting final tests and hope to start delivering recycled water later this month.

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