Celebrity enclave seeks wastewater purification facility

A celebrity-studded, water-rich region on the western edge of Los Angeles County has cleared a major hurdle to building a water treatment plant that officials say will help reduce local reliance on supplies imported from Northern California.

The Board of Directors of the Las Virgenes-Triunfo Joint Powers Authority this week approved a final impact report on the proposed clean water project at 30800 Agoura Road in Agoura Hills — a facility that would purify the millions of gallons of treated wastewater currently used for irrigation be or washed into the Pacific Ocean.

The plant would provide water to approximately 75,000 residents in Agoura Hills, Calabasas, Hidden Hills and Westlake Village, and approximately 14,000 residents in Ventura’s Oak Park. For a long time, the communities have been almost exclusively dependent on state supplies.

“It is evident that we must prepare for a future where we are less dependent on these remote water sources,” said David Pedersen, general manager of the Las Virgenes Metropolitan Water District. “We will always need them, they will be part of our portfolio, but we have to become more confident.”

Both Las Virgenes and the Triunfo Water & Sanitation District have been hit hard by the ongoing drought, and getting taxpayers to reduce water use has been difficult at times. In August, Las Virgenes issued violation notices to more than 2,000 clients, including Sylvester Stallone, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Hart and Kim Kardashian.

Almost all of the region’s water comes from Southern California’s Metropolitan Water District via the State Water Project — a network of reservoirs, canals and pipelines that serves dozens of agencies across the state. But with heat and drought consuming those supplies, state officials have been forced to cut their allotments, leaving areas like Las Virgenes with few options.

Earlier this year the agency forecast a potential shortage of 63% if drought conditions don’t improve in 2023, with spokesman Mike McNutt recently noting the number has likely worsened since then. On Wednesday, the MWD announced a drought emergency for the entire Southern California region.

The new facility, known as Pure Water Project Las Virgenes-Triunfo, will have the capacity to treat up to 6 million gallons per day, allowing up to 20% of the region’s water needs to be sourced locally, officials said.

“This has been an important process and we very much look forward to this significant moment,” Jay Lewitt, chairman of the Joint Powers Authority, said in a statement. “Our most important and important task is to ensure that our customers have a reliable water supply. This project will do just that.”

The Pure Water Project will channel treated, recycled wastewater from the Tapia Water Reclamation Facility in Agoura Hills into the new facility, where it will undergo a multi-stage purification process that includes membrane filtration, reverse osmosis and UV light disinfection with advanced oxidation, officials said. The Tapia facility, owned and operated by the Joint Powers Authority, currently discharges treated wastewater into Malibu Creek, which then flows into the Malibu Lagoon and Pacific Ocean.

The process will remove bacteria, viruses, pharmaceuticals, so-called “forever chemicals” and other compounds of concern from the water to create “the cleanest drinking water available,” officials said.

From there, the purified water is mixed with water from the State Water Project in the Las Virgenes Reservoir for six months before being treated a third time in an existing filter system and then distributed throughout the service area.

Not everyone fully agreed with the concept. A handful of public commentators at recent meetings have expressed concern about drinking recycled water and the project’s potential environmental impact on Oak Trees and Malibu Creek.

The environmental impact report “contains numerous errors and deficiencies and does not serve as an informational document needed to inform decision makers and the public of the potential environmental impacts before the project is approved,” said Andrew Graf of the County Line Alliance for Sustainable Projects Tafel.

His concerns included possible overexploitation of the area’s aquifer and potential air quality and health impacts associated with the construction project. He also said the report “does not accurately describe the environmental environment, including the existence of sensitive plants and wildlife in the project area.”

The board members said the project will almost completely eliminate discharges into Malibu Creek, except for those needed to keep electricity flowing, and will meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s strict regulatory requirements for maximum total daily exposure to pollutants.

“We know we have stricter environmental regulations to comply with at Malibu Creek. This is a strict and expeditious order from the EPA,” Board Member Charles Caspary said during the meeting.

Agoura Hills councilor Penny Sylvester said the city was very enthusiastic about the project and grateful to the board for finding “new ways to reclaim and use water” but also asked about the fate of the oak trees at the site of the project.

Pedersen said about 36 oak trees will need to be removed or transplanted and that all trees removed will be replaced at a 4 to 1 ratio.

McNutt said the project has garnered broad community support, especially as district residents face the likely prospect of even stricter water restrictions and a possible total ban on outdoor irrigation next year.

“We as a water authority have to take care of ourselves because if we can do that, we don’t need to worry as much about where other water is coming from,” he said. “This is a solution to keep it local.”

The board’s approval means officials can begin fundraising and attracting a design firm, Pedersen said. He anticipated funding for the $364 million project will come from a combination of federal and state grants and soft loans, meaning interest payers will share some of the cost.

But he said projections show there will be a “transition point” in about 15 years, when the district will produce water at a lower cost than importing it.

“This action could not have come at a better time,” he said. “We are among the hardest hit by droughts in all of Southern California and our customers are feeling the effects. That is our task. We have to do this and we make it possible.”

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-12-15/celebrity-enclave-seeks-wastewater-purification-facility Celebrity enclave seeks wastewater purification facility

Alley Einstein

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