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Aliso Creek waters to be de-salted

Aliso Creek could benefit from a new effort to improve the quality of reclaimed water and find new users for the product.

Customers of South Coast Water District’s recycled water are drying up — including golf courses.

City officials voted 4-0 on Tuesday to support a proposed project to harvest polluted water from Aliso Creek, filter out the salt and mix with it the district’s recycled water to produce a less salty product that should satisfy customers.

“Aliso Creek Golf Course is using drinking water because of the high salt content of the district’s recycled water, and another one in Dana Point is going to quit using it,” said City Councilwoman Cheryl Kinsman, who sponsored the agenda item.

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About a maximum of 800,000 gallons of polluted water would be extracted from the creek every day if the project is approved. The polluted water would be pumped to a Clear Creek Systems Inc. installation, which would be constructed adjacent to the Advanced Water Treatment system at the Coastal Treatment Plant in South Laguna operated by the district under a contract with the South Orange County Wastewater Authority.

The deal proposed by the district with Clear Creek would be for a period of 10 years, with an estimated 300 acre-feet of water processed annually, at an estimated cost to the district of $308,000.

About 400,000 gallons of less salty water would be netted daily from the extraction, district General Manager Mike Dunbar said. The rest would go back into the treatment plant.

The district would pay Clear Creek $11,000 a month and $442 for each acre-foot of water produced and power costs estimated at $44,000 a year — offset by $100,000 a year in costs currently paid to SOCWA for recycled water. The district would also receive a one-time payment of $44,000 from the county.

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“This is not a money-maker,” Dunbar said. “The district is willing to absorb annual costs, but we are asking the city and the county to help with permitting costs,”

Laguna Beach was tapped for $25,000, and the county will be asked for $50,000 to offset the cost of obtaining permits and authorizations for the project from regulatory agencies, which include the state Regional Water Quality Control Board San Diego region, the state Water Resources Control Board, the state Department of Fish & Game, the Department of Health Services and South Orange County Water Authority.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Schneider, who serves on the San Diego board, did not participate in the discussion or vote.

“The contribution [the council is being] asked for is modest,” said South Laguna Civic Assn. spokeswoman Lisa Marks. “It’s a great value.”

The district provides water and sewer service in Laguna Beach from Nyes Place to the city’s southern boundary, generally known as South Laguna.

Residents there and city officials have long been concerned about the pollution in Aliso Creek spewing onto the beach and into the ocean.

The proposed project would have the added benefit of reducing the urban runoff from the creek. Although not a direct issue of the district, the project would help to reduce pollution in its service area, officials said.

“If we take the lead, maybe some of the cities that are doing the polluting will do something to reduce it,” Kinsman said.

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The district has been unable to isolate the source of the high salt content in the recycled water. Tests conducted in the mid-1990s indicated no single source.

In 1997, Aliso Creek Golf Course, which uses about 150 acre-feet a year to irrigate the greens and fairways, discontinued using the district’s recycled water. Monarch Beach Golf Links, which uses approximately 270 acre feet annually, has indicated concern about the salt content of the recycled water it purchases from the district.

“The greens are tuning yellow,” Dunbar said.

Monarch Beach buys more than 25% of the district’s recycled water.

Currently the recycled water has a salt content of 1,100 milligrams per liter. The Clear Creek-treated water would have salt content of 200 milligrams per liter. Blending the two would result in recycled water with a salt content of approximately 800 milligrams per liter, compatible with other recycled water producers in the region, which includes Moulton Niguel, Santa Margarita, Irvine Ranch and El Toro water districts.

South Coast Water District staff estimates the project could be in place by October.

QUESTION OF THE WEEK

Should golf courses and other large water users for landscaping be required to use recycled water? Write us at P.O. Box 248, Laguna Beach, CA, 92652, e-mail us at coastlinepilot@latimes.com or fax us at 494-8979. Please give your name and tell us your home address and phone number for verification purposes only.

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