If you don’t go, you won’t know – that should be the motto of the monthly LADWP / Neighborhood Council meetings. This month’s meeting, held on Saturday, May 4, was all about water recycling…but before we talk about that, let’s take a quick step back and look at where these meetings came from.
At the turn of the century, there was a general feeling of dissatisfaction with the LADWP, particularly because residents didn’t understand why the utility was raising power rates so much. But two things happened in the early 2000s that improved the situation greatly: in 2005 the DWP and neighborhood councils agreed to meet every month, and in 2011 the city created the position of Ratepayer Advocate, a position currently held by Dr. Fred Pickel. So while a general feeling of customer dissatisfaction may remain – especially in light of recent power outages – even local critic/watchdog Jack Humphreville has given LADWP kudos for greatly improved transparency at these monthly meetings. Which brings us back to Saturday’s meeting.
During the recent drought, groundwater levels plummeted, and the city got serious again about recycling water. (Depend on it, sir*, when a city knows the taps may soon run dry, it focuses the civic mind wonderfully.) But recycled water comes from treated wastewater, not stormwater (which the city also got serious about), and wags love to use the phrase ‘toilet to tap’ to play up the “ick” factor.
But according to Yoshiko Tsunehara (LADWP project manager for groundwater replenishment) and Azya Jackson of LASAN, in a presentation at Saturday’s meeting, the city is currently working on a new project to improve treatment of wastewater at the city’s Tillman Water Reclamation Plant…and there’s nothing icky about it. The plan is to treat the water to be clean enough to recharge our aquifer and (after the water travels underground for months or years) replenish our drinking water supply. This is called indirect potable water reuse, which has been practiced by a number of cities over the last fifty years, and for which the state issued detailed regulations in 2014. As Tsunehara explained, the current project will recycle 3,500 acre-feet (or more than a billion gallons) of wastewater per year, increasing the city’s water supply by about 1%, saving the city about $300 per acre-foot over what it would pay to import the same amount of water from the Colorado River, and helping guard against future drought.
Tsunehara explained that the Tillman plant will send wastewater through three stages of treatment, rendering it clean enough to infiltrate into the ground (see diagram at ladwp.com/gwr).
She also pointed to an LA study that measured how well passing treated water through soil can remove various kinds of residual contaminents, including some bacteria, viruses, and drugs, and which concluded that this technique is “an effective, natural treatment option.” The approach is also much less expensive than desalination (which would be required if we were to increase our potable water supply by converting sea water to drinking water), and infiltrating clean water may also help flush out contaminated groundwater. (Related: a settlement was recently reached with Lockheed Martin to clean up some of that contamination.)
Tsunehara said the city’s new wastewater treatment equipment should be online and producing water by the end of the year, reducing the cost and energy required to supply the city with drinking water. The current project is big enough to handle currently available wastewater, and when the planned East West Valley Interceptor Sewer is completed, the project will be expanded to recycle that wastewater as well.
An audience member mentioned that he has long noticed that Lake Balboa (which was created at the same time as the Tillman plant was built) routinely stinks. The DWP representative explained that the smell comes from “fish and birds and biology, and comes down to a Rec and Parks management issue” unrelated to the water treatment plant itself.
Incidentally, according to Saturday’s speakers, the Tillman plant isn’t just a boring industrial facility; it features interesting architecture and an award-winning Japanese garden, and has served as Starfleet Headquarters in several episodes of Star Trek over the years. (The garden is open daily, except Saturdays, for visitors; admission is $5.)
An audio recording of Saturday’s full presentation and discussion is online at YouTube.
After the water treatment presentation, the meeting went on to discuss other topics, including the upcoming May 13th review of water and power rates by the Office of Public Accountability, and a mysterious $12.50 “power access charge” on a sharp-eyed ratepayer’s bill. (The Power Access Charge is the LADWP’s way of accounting for the cost of making sure the system can handle the biggest load a customer throws at it, and means cranking up your air conditioner hard in August can continue to raise your power bill a bit for the next year. But it could be worse; some utilities charge based on the 15 minutes you use the most power, which would mean running a toaster at the wrong moment could cost you a lot more than expected.)
Thanks to LADWP and LASAN for keeping us up to date!
* with apologies to Samuel Johnson