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For Costa Mesa Sanitary District, letting 75 years go to waste is a good thing

Steve Cano, a maintenance supervisor for the Costa Mesa Sanitary District, stands beside a pump station
Costa Mesa Sanitary District maintenance supervisor Steve Cano stands in 2016 next to a pump station on Wilson Street painted with the image of Sewer Slayer, a superhero-like character he helped create to teach children about how the district keeps the sewers running, and the system’s various villains.
(File Photo)

Picking up trash and flushing wastewater through the pipes may not be at the front of most people’s minds.

To the Costa Mesa Sanitary District, that’s a good thing. It means the district is doing its job — as it has for 75 years.

The district will celebrate its diamond anniversary Saturday with an open house at its headquarters in Costa Mesa. The event will offer giveaways, games, a bounce house for children and demonstrations of the district’s trucks.

The sanitary district is responsible for the grittiest of chores: collecting trash and recycling and treating wastewater for about 116,700 ratepayers in Costa Mesa, parts of Newport Beach and nearby unincorporated sections of the county.

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“It’s not that sexy,” said board President Jim Ferryman, who will be honored Saturday for his 30 years of service with the district.

Still, it’s necessary. In addition to its trash and wastewater services, the district offers a citizens environmental protection academy, delivery of composting bins, and collection of used American flags, excess grease and large items.

“Wastewater is out of sight, out of mind,” said district General Manager Scott Carroll. “The toilets flush, they don’t think twice about what happens to it.”

The sanitary district transforms wastewater into drinking water, Carroll said — another fact little known by the public.

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He also pointed out the digestion facility where green waste goes to be turned into fuel.

Since its origins in 1944, the district has seen several changes. The most notable, Carroll said, is in technology. At one time, sanitary district workers would have to consult paper maps and files to make changes to the piping system. Today, they can pull up a wealth of information on any manhole in the wastewater system with a couple of clicks on a tablet computer.

The materials in the system are different now too. Any of the existing clay pipes that needs replacing is supplanted by PVC piping, a longer-lasting alternative.

A Costa Mesa Sanitary District pump station on Gisler Avenue features this mural painted by Richard
A mural on a Costa Mesa Sanitary District pump station on Gisler Avenue is pictured in 2017.
(Courtesy of Costa Mesa Sanitary District)

One of the district’s most substantial actions came in 2016, when it moved into its own facility. Previously, the district was housed at City Hall.

The district also has garnered several awards over the years, most recently a certificate of excellence for its financial reporting and transparency.

“Not to toot our own horn, but we’re very well-thought-of in the water and wastewater community,” Ferryman said.

Like any institution that has been around for 75 years, the district’s history hasn’t entirely lacked conflict.

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Board member Jim Fitzpatrick resigned from his elected seat in 2013 following a tug-of-war with fellow members that eventually led to a lawsuit against him about whether he had a conflict of interest for sitting on both the sanitary district board and the city Planning Commission.

Also, a settlement in July 2018 ended a long back-and-forth between the sanitary district and the Mesa Water District after the sanitary district dismissed a proposal from Mesa Water to discuss consolidating the districts. Voters passed Measure TT in 2016, saying they wanted the districts to explore a possible merger.

IF YOU GO

What: Costa Mesa Sanitary District 75th-anniversary open house

When: 9-11 a.m. Saturday

Where: 290 Paularino Ave., Costa Mesa

Cost: Free

Information: cmsdca.gov

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