The thin black line weaving up Kanan Road in Oak Park symbolizes the future of smart water usage in east Ventura County to officials of the Calleguas Municipal Water District.
Buried deep under freshly poured tar is a 2-foot-wide plastic pipe that connects the Oak Park water system to Los Angeles County and the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District, which treats Oak Park sewage.
Starting in a few weeks, reclaimed water--chemically treated and filtered sewage water--will run through the pipeline into Oak Park to be used to irrigate median strips, landscaped areas and parks in the community.
Eventually, the system will be extended to the golf course at North Ranch in Thousand Oaks. And in future years, Calleguas, which serves 450,000 users in the east county and in Camarillo and Oxnard, hopes to build similar reclaimed-water projects in Thousand Oaks and Simi Valley.
Calleguas General Manager Don Kendall calls this method of reusing water “drought proofing.”
“Drought proofing counts for a lot economically, but it’s also the right thing to do,” Kendall said. “This is the first link and you’re going to see a lot more.”
The $1.1-million Oak Park pipeline and pump station is a joint venture of Calleguas, Las Virgenes and the Triunfo County Sanitation District. Las Virgenes already supplies Lake Sherwood with reclaimed water for irrigation.
Although the supplies of reclaimed water coming from Las Virgenes are plentiful, only a small section of Oak Park running from Conifer Road to the county line will have access to it until a pump station is built at Mae Boyer Park.
The pump station, expected to be finished next March, will provide the push needed to get the reclaimed water to uphill areas. For now, Kendall said, the system will rely on gravity to distribute the water.
“It’s really going to be a very small percentage of the community that gets the water for now,” Kendall said. “But since the water is going to be available, why not start using it now?”
When the project is complete, about 15% of Oak Park’s water needs could be met by reclaimed water, Kendall said. That could amount to about 1,300 acre feet a year. One acre-foot is enough to serve the needs of two families for one year.
At intervals along the Kanan Road pipeline, lateral pipes have been built off the system, so that various users can hook onto the system when it is finished. Kendall said Calleguas will sell reclaimed water at about 75% the cost of state treated water to encourage use.
According to Las Virgenes General Manager Jim Colbaugh, Oak Park sewage is collected and treated by Triunfo at the Tapia Water Reclamation Facility on Malibu Canyon Road. In addition to being conservationally sound, Colbaugh said it also saves the water district money--it only pays the cost of treating the water and transporting it.
“It’s their water,” Colbaugh said. “They already paid for it.”
All of Oak Park’s water comes from state water projects in the Sierras, so comparatively the trip from the Tapia facility is an especially short one.
“Ten miles down the hill and 10 miles back up,” Colbaugh said. “It’s just a hop, skip and a jump.”
Although the treated water is not meant for drinking, using it for irrigation is not believed to pose any significant hazards to the public. State and national regulators, however, do recommend that watering be done at night, to minimize human contact.
Pam Cosby, utilities manager for Ventura, said that city now uses about 800 acre-feet of reclaimed water a year to irrigate parks and golf courses, and plans to increase that usage gradually. She said reclaimed water improves plant life in many cases.
“The nutrients from waste water are actually useful,” Cosby said. “The nitrates are good for the vegetation.”
Of the 65,000 acre-feet of waste water released throughout the county annually, about 19,000 acre-feet are reclaimed. But county officials said that figure includes the large amounts of water returned to streams and lakes to protect fish and wildlife.