Water District plans increase of recycled wastewater

Public Affairs Associate Riki Clark conducts a tour of the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District’s Pure Water Demonstration Facility on Mar. 19. The public tours explain the process of recycling wastewater into pure drinking water. Photo by J. Tallal/TMT

Department of Water Resources (DWR) officials announced they were cutting State Water Project allocations from 15 percent of what had been requested by water districts to 5 percent, due to extremely dry conditions. The State Water Project is just one of Malibu’s water suppliers — other sources include groundwater and the Colorado River.

“We’re experiencing climate change whiplash in real time, with extreme swings between wet and dry conditions. That means adjusting quickly based on the data and the science,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth in a prepared statement. “While we hoped for more rain and snow, DWR has been preparing for a third consecutive year of drought since October. We are continuing with a series of actions to balance the needs of endangered species, water supply conservation, and water deliveries for millions of Californians.”

Because announcements like this are expected to become even more commonplace in future years, most water districts have already started planning changes to become less reliant on imported water. 

Locally, the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District (LVMWD), which serves “90265” residents outside the City of Malibu and across the Santa Monica Mountains, is doing just that.

Since September 2020, the district has been operating the Pure Water Demonstration Facility on Las Virgenes Road, a high-tech water treatment plant that completes the process of transforming wastewater into drinking water. Following a free public tour, a souvenir glass of the recycled water is given to each person to taste and see that it’s clear and flavorless.

“We have to overcome the ‘yuck’ factor of people being afraid to drink perfectly clean water that started off as wastewater,” said Public Affairs Associate II Riki Clark, who led the tour. As Las Virgenes literature states, it’s “bringing our water full circle.”

Like Malibu’s Water District No. 29, Las Virgenes also imports all of its drinking water, because there is no local water supply. 

“Our water is imported from 400 miles away, but it’s not a consistent supply to be counted on,” the company writes. “The Pure Water Project Las Virgenes-Triunfo will be the first sustainable water source for our region while also maintaining our commitment to environmental stewardship of the Malibu Creek Watershed.”

The Pure Water Demonstration Facility not only educates the public, but is actively being used to test equipment and processes that will be used in the full scale Pure Water Project, which will be built once the environmental reports are approved. Las Virgenes is currently preparing its environmental impact report, and held its first public meeting on the project in September 2021.

The basic plan is to build an advanced water purification facility that will receive treated water from the Tapia Water Reclamation Facility, which is already suitable to water golf courses, among other purposes. It then goes through three advanced processes that further purify it into drinking water: microfiltration, reverse osmosis and UV light as a disinfectant.

The recycled water will be piped to the Las Virgenes Reservoir, where it blends with the district’s Metropolitan Water District of Southern California supply, and is filtered before going out to homes and businesses.

This plan must be achieved by 2030 in order to meet certain permit requirements, and once functioning, Clark said that 15 percent of the district’s water would be coming from recycled wastewater — reducing their reliance on imports.

Clark also pointed out that they are mandated to “help supplement the water flows in Malibu Creek to support the flora and fauna there,” and that the water discharged into Malibu Creek had to be upgraded to “above drinking water standards,” which puts it through the advanced treatment process.

The West Basin Municipal Water District, which supplies water to Malibu’s District No. 29, recycles millions of gallons of water, but not to the extent of reusing it for drinking water — it’s only for groundwater replenishment, boilers and cooling towers. The district had been exploring the idea of desalination as a means to cut back on imported water, but on Dec. 22, 2021, the board voted to terminate pursuit of its Ocean Water Desalination Project.

To schedule an in-person tour of the Pure Water Demonstration Facility on Las Virgenes Road, go to https://www.ourpureh2o.com/learn-more/demonstration-project