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Featured Image: The rugged site for Trampas Canyon Reservoir, pictured here back in April 2019, is situated beside a commercial sand-mining facility between San Clemente’s Talega community and Ortega Highway. Photo: Fred Swegles

By C. Jayden Smith

The City of San Clemente has entered into a 30-year agreement with the Santa Margarita Water District for the transportation and treatment of wastewater from the Talega Service Area, per approval by the City Council on Tuesday, Sept. 6.

Lasting through 2052, the city will receive around $800,000 yearly for wastewater services, expected future revenue for the sale of recycled water, and a one-time payment of $1.1 million from SMWD for use of the city’s existing recycled water system.

San Clemente will acquire 200 acre-feet, of which the amount of water that covers an acre of land and sits one foot deep, of capacity at SMWD’s Trampas Recycled Water Reservoir.

The council also voted, 3-2, to direct staff to explore the process of having the city’s water department annexed by an existing water district. Mayor Pro Tem Chris Duncan and Councilmember Kathy Ward voted against the motion, citing the desire to have the item discussed within the context of the city’s Long-Term Financial Plan.

Because of odors and failures in SMWD’s pressurized sewer pipes that push along wastewater, or force mains, to the district’s Chiquita Wastewater Plant, SMWD formally requested for the city to accept and treat water from Talega in 2017. The two entities then agreed to an interim partnership while working on a long-term agreement.

San Clemente has treated 650,000 gallons per day—0.65 million gallons per day (MGD)—from December 2017 onward, and the city’s Water Reclamation Plant (WRP) has the capacity for 6.976 MGD.

Along with wastewater services, the city will produce future recycled water to sell to SMWD and construct an Advanced Water Treatment Facility at the WRP with which to provide higher quality recycled water, according to the city’s agenda report.

COVID-19 delayed the agreement’s official approval, as well as differences in the entities’ recycled water quality standards because of the city’s higher salt content. Proximity to the ocean, urban runoff, and water softeners within the city’s service area contribute to the salt content, quantified as total dissolved solids (TDS), which is 1,350 parts per million (PPM).

“Our permit limit is 1,200 parts per million,” San Clemente Utilities Director Dave Rebensdorf said. “Since we’re a coastal city, that’s typical, we’re not the only city that’s having that challenge. Fortunately, the (San Diego Water Board) are not holding our feet to the fire at this point.”

The $10.5 million water treatment facility would improve water quality and allow the agencies to meet permit requirements, as well as provide additional supply to SMWD to offset imported drinking water and meet irrigation customer demands.

“The proposed facility will treat approximately 1.2 MGD of recycled water through microfiltration and reverse osmosis,” the report read. “This highly treated water is then blended with recycled water to produce final product water with a TDS below 800 ppm.”

Rebensdorf added there would be a cost-sharing aspect to the project. The partnership would drive the rate increase down to between about 3% and 5% for the city’s customers, as opposed to a 26% increase if the city were to build the facility on its own.

There is significant additional capacity for the WRP to produce up to 3,360 acre-feet per year in recycled water, a term that means enough water to cover one acre of land and sit one foot deep, of which the current demand is only 1,200. The report identified the remaining 2,160 acre-feet-per-year to reduce importing more drinking water to South Orange County.

“The Agreement is a unique opportunity for the City to utilize its stranded assets while cost sharing improvements with SMWD,” the city said in its report. “It will create additional sources of revenue to offset future rate increases for the City’s customers and reduce the financial burden on the City of improving recycled water quality.”

With the capacity available at the Trampas Regional Reservoir, the city will also have the opportunity for seasonal recycled water storage to use during plant outages and peak demand times.

C. Jayden Smith

C. Jayden Smith graduated from Dana Hills High in 2018 before pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in digital and broadcast journalism from the University of North Texas. After graduating in December 2020, he reported for the Salina Journal in Salina, Kansas. Jayden loves college football and bothering his black lab named Shadow.

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