The past 700 years have been the wettest in California history since the end of the Ice Age. The prior 15,000 years were beset with centuries-long droughts that make recent ones seem tame. Due to the effects of global warming, those long droughts of the past will return. Laguna’s water supply has had issues even in these wet years.
Water is too valuable a resource to waste by just using it once and dumping it in the ocean. Yet that is exactly what most folks continue to do. Some reuse their water by irrigating gardens with water from the clothes washer. Some cities have separate purple pipes for wastewater that is almost clean, to be used exclusively for irrigation. These are examples of thinking globally and acting locally. But it isn’t enough.
Some problems require more global solutions. The management of water has always been a primary driver for organizing human effort into civilizations. There’s water projects dating back thousands of years. These are examples of folks trying to deal with changing natural conditions.
Our local water supply, provided by the Orange County Water District, is an example of civilization working to manage the effects of a changing climate and a growing population. OCWD has a project for groundwater replenishment that presently recycles a hundred million gallons of reclaimed wastewater a day. Their source of supply is the stream of treated wastewater from the Orange County Sanitation District. The sanitation district’s cleanest product is the water district’s dirtiest. They take that cleaned wastewater and filter out everything but the water molecule.
This water is so pure minerals are put back in so that it won’t leach the minerals from pipes or the bones of people who drink it. Thirty millions gallons are used for a freshwater barrier to prevent salt water intrusion from the ocean into the Santa Ana River basin. The other 70 million gallons are injected back into the basin to be drawn out later and distributed to the districts customers.
About a third of the water the district delivers is reclaimed wastewater. We’ve been drinking it for years. Laguna’s wastewater treatment plant is starting to show its age. Planning its replacement should start today. Any future plant should follow the OCWD groundwater replenishment model.
Water cleaned to this degree can be introduced into the potable water supply with no need for expensive separate storage and distribution systems. This is the most efficient model for managing this precious resource to date. Laguna would be well served by adopting this model now.
J.J. Gasparotti moved to Laguna Beach with his family when he was 11 years old. He has loved it ever since.