Odd couple to pare runoff

Alicia Robinson

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

ocean."

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

range.

"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

alicia.robinson@latimes.com.

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