Through a seemingly unlikely partnership, a major developer and an
environmental watchdog created a plan that will do the nearly
impossible: prevent a 168-unit resort from generating any more runoff
than its now-vacant site does.
The Irvine Co. and Orange County CoastKeeper have developed a
water-reclamation plan that traps rainwater, pumps it to storage
reservoirs and uses it in the irrigation system for the existing
courses at Pelican Hill Golf Club. The developer last year announced
plans to build a luxury resort with 40 guest bungalows, 128 time
share units, a spa and a new golf club house on 119 acres surrounding
the existing golf club.
While the property was annexed to the city of Newport Beach in
January 2002, annexation agreements give the county jurisdiction over
approving the project's development plans. Construction of the resort
-- including the water reclamation system -- could begin in 2005,
once the county completes a final supplemental environmental report
and the accompanying public hearing process.
While limiting runoff from development is mandated by law, the
Irvine Co.'s Pelican Hill plan far exceeds the state requirement.
Water from the resort site drains to the already erosion-plagued
Morning Canyon and the beach at Crystal Cove as well as Pelican Point
and Los Trancos Canyon.
"This is a resort hotel," said Sat Tamaribuchi, the Irvine Co.'s
vice president of environmental affairs. "We recognize the importance
of water quality in the ocean to our operations, so we wanted to put
in the best system we could to provide the highest level of
protection we could.... People come to this area because of the
The water-reclamation plan took about a year and a half to create,
Tamaribuchi said. It will use five underground cisterns to trap
rainwater, which will be pumped into two storage reservoirs that
already exist on the golf courses but will be enlarged. Water from
the reservoirs is used in the golf course irrigation system.
The plan includes hiring a full-time water-quality manager, and it
aims to clean the water that does run off from the site with filters
that keep trash and debris out of water catch basins, absorbent
landscape planters that filter storm water and high-tech street
sweepers that use suction to keep dust and trash contained.
Water-quality activist group Orange County CoastKeeper consulted
with the Irvine Co. on the plan at the developer's request, but the
relationship between the two wasn't always rosy.
CoastKeeper threatened to sue the developer in 2001 over a plan
that would have diverted runoff to storm drains that end on the beach
at Crystal Cove, but the two sides came to an agreement.
"Our relationship with the Irvine Co. has steadily improved over
the years since we challenged them, basically, at Crystal Cove,"
CoastKeeper Executive Director Garry Brown said. "Through that
process, the Irvine Co. did an about-face and came up with a model
water quality plan, [and] we in turn gave them an award at our annual
dinner for the plan they came up with."
The Pelican Hill plan is one CoastKeeper can be pleased with,
Brown said. Its goal of capturing all storm water on the site raises
the bar for other developers who often fight attempts to set a
measurable performance standard for runoff control.
State law says development projects must capture and treat most of
the water in the first rainfall of the season and control runoff "to
the maximum extent practicable," but it doesn't clearly define what
efforts that entails.
The Irvine Co. does not disclose project costs, but Brown
estimated the water reclamation system in the multimillion-dollar
"The Irvine Co. is making a large investment in water quality that
the law does not require," he said. "They've been doing this a long
time, and they're at a point now where probably legacy is as
important as profit."
The water reclamation system will be featured in the second-ever
issue of Orange County CoastKeeper magazine, due out Tuesday.
* ALICIA ROBINSON covers business, politics and the environment.
She may be reached at (949) 764-4330 or by e-mail at