Opinion: Let’s wrap Laguna with recycled water before future wildfires

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By Mike Beanan

With a troubling early start to the fire season, Californians are more concerned about water and drought than any other environmental issue, according to a report recently published by the Public Policy Institute of California.

The drought will put additional stress on the Laguna Greenbelt, especially near homes, so more water is needed to mitigate the drought. We need more water to protect native plants central to local carbon sequestration while shading and cooling hillsides for climate change. New sources of water can bolster wildfire prevention efforts. However, State mandates seek a 30% reduction in water use. Where will we get some new water?

Laguna pays to discharge to the ocean 1.87 million gallons of wasted wastewater every day or more than half a billion gallons annually. To dump this resource into the ocean is antithetical to water wisdom or sustainability.

Through technology transfer, water filtration systems used by oil companies which have already proven useful elsewhere, can be used now to reclaim and clean Laguna’s wastewater as a source of “new water” for Laguna’s Greenbelt urban fringe areas. Yes, it is difficult but it will protect us from devastating wildfires with an on-demand, independent supply of high purity, new water. Adjacent homes can also use this water for rear yard fire protection and routine irrigation. Homeowner insurance rates will likely be adjusted with improved, on-demand, wildfire protection water.

We can take action as a community to be certain Laguna Beach is ahead of—and not behind—the curve by accessing $11 billion in state funds using high purity recycled water as the best practice for wildfire prevention and suppression?

Change comes down to community willpower. Consider where it goes when you “go”? We are all in this together. So, do you have the will to seek wiser use of Laguna’s wasted wastewater for wildfire protection and a pathway to reduce secondary sewage discharges to the ocean—the foundation of Laguna’s ecology, economy, and our special quality of life?
According to studies by the Irvine Ranch Water District (IRWD), as much as half of local water use is for ornamental irrigation and other non-potable applications. Irvine and South County cities could not have been built without recycled water. In the meantime, Laguna’s Main Beach Park is still irrigated with imported water. The Festival of Arts flushes toilets with drinking water.

“With more than half the water we use going to irrigation, the most significant savings can be achieved outdoors,” says IRWD.

On the one hand, there are those arguing Aliso Creek is no longer polluted by urban runoff despite being the final destination for the Aliso Watershed with a population of 177,000. County studies indicate about half of the dry season flows of 2.5 million gallons per day to Aliso Beach are non-native. Excess water from inland over-irrigation washes fertilizers, pesticides and automotive contaminants in urban runoff flowing each day to us.

In theory, about one million gallons of non-native water can be captured daily for local beneficial reuse at the Aliso Creek Water Reclamation Facility built in 2014 at the Coastal Treatment Plant to remove excess creek flows. If the creek is indeed “clean”, is it “water wise” to dump this water onto Aliso Beach and into the ocean’s Marine Protected Areas during a drought?

During a wildfire episode, potable water will be commandeered by the Fire Department leaving homeowners “high and dry” and unable to pre-soak their homes and surrounding vegetation to prepare for an on-coming wildfire. Water can prevent and suppress fire.
It’s up to each of us to make a decision to become water wiser and urge the City Council and Water District to finally use recycled water for an independent, reliable perimeter wildfire water system.

Mike is a co-founder of the Laguna Bluebelt Coalition.

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