A tremendous amount of effort is required to import water into Southern California. It's too valuable to use just once so SMWD makes it a priority to reuse it as much as possible. 25% of SMWD's total water demand is met with recycled water.
Much of southern California has always relied on imported drinking water. Since 1964 when SMWD was founded, it has invested in infrastructure to reuse its imported water and store it locally. In fact, SMWD set a strategic goal to recycle 100% of its wastewater. In 2020, with the completion of OC's largest recycled water reservoir, Trampas Canyon, the goal was achieved. However, in 2021, SMWD expanded its service area to include San Juan Capistrano which has less recycled water infrastructure. SMWD refocused its strategic goals and will recycle 100% of its wastewater by 2030.
Recycled water is safe, reliable, and sustainable for watering common areas, parks, and medians. Using recycled water for outdoor watering is an environmentally responsible and cost-effective way to maintain green landscapes year-round. It has been used safely in the United States since 1929.
How is Recycled Water Made?
Recycled water is a product of highly treated wastewater. Wastewater from the local community (e.g. sinks, showers, toilets) is collected and treated at one of SMWD’s two wastewater reclamation plants. The treatment process takes roughly 24 hours and removes solids and contaminants through three processes referred to as primary, secondary and tertiary treatment.
SMWD’s Water Reclamation plants:
- Chiquita Water Reclamation treats up to 10 million gallons per day. It is located in Rancho Mission Viejo just north of the Cow Camp bridge.
- Oso Creek Water Reclamation plant treats 1.8 million gallons per day. It is located in Mission Viejo just south of Marguerite Parkway off of La Paz Road. The plant is undergoing a major improvement (2022-2023).
All recycled water produced by SMWD meets the recycled water quality requirements for California as established by Title 22 of the California Code of Regulations, administered by the State Water Resources Control Board.
Recycled Water " Purple Pipe" Distribution System
Recycled water distribution systems can be easily identified by the purple pipe used exclusively to maintain the separation of drinking water and recycled water. Recycled water is produced at one of SMWD’s water reclamation plants, then piped to a seasonal storage reservoir.
Demands for recycled water fluctuate with the weather and seasons. During the cooler, wet months SMWD stores the recycled water for use in the warmer, dry months.
SMWD delivers recycled water to parks, medians, slopes, golf courses, and schools in Mission Viejo, Coto de Caza, Las Flores, Ladera Ranch, the Village of Sendero and Esencia, the Talega community in San Clemente, and San Juan Capistrano.
Benefits of Recycled Water
- Saves drinking water for essential indoor use
- Reduces reliance on imported water
- Reduces the amount of treated wastewater discharged into the ocean
- Drought-resistant supply that maintains health and aesthetics of community landscapes
- Sustainable water supply
Recycled water meets 25% of SMWD's total water demands
- 3 billion gallons per year
- 1,600 recycled water connections
- 180+ miles of distribution pipeline
- 11 storage tanks
- 3 open air reservoirs
- 4 billion gallons of storage
- 23 pump stations
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Recycled Water Expansion & Innovation
Recycled water is central to SMWD’s efforts to reduce its dependence on imported water. Here’s a look at key recycled water projects:
- In 2022, recycled water infrastructure was expanded to Las Flores, which will save 65 million gallons of drinking water each year.
- In 2020, SMWD built Orange County’s largest recycled water reservoir, Trampas Canyon has the capacity to hold 1.6 billion gallons of recycled water. Take a virtual tour of national award-winning project.
- In 2017, Lake Mission Viejo became the first swimming lake in California to use Advanced Treated Water. Through a unique public-private partnership, SMWD, Lake Mission Viejo, and the city of Mission Viejo built an innovative advanced treated water facility that takes highly treated recycled water and treats it to near drinking water standards for lake refill. The award-winning project saves 98 million gallons of water each year.
- 2016, the retirement community of Palmia in Mission Viejo was retrofit to use recycled water throughout the community, saving 22 million gallons of drinking water per year.
- In 2015, the recycled water distribution system was expanded in south Mission Viejo to irrigate City of Mission Viejo parks, Bathgate elementary school, and common areas for several HOAs, saving some 70 million gallons of drinking water each year.
- 1980 – SMWD built the Portola Reservoir located in north Coto de Caza.
- 1979 – SMWD built its first recycled water reservoir, Upper Oso Reservoir located near the 241-toll road and Los Alisos.
- 1972 – SMWD installed its first recycled water pipelines in Mission Viejo
- 1972 – SMWD built its first treatment plant, the Oso Creek Water Reclamation plant with the capacity to treat 6 billion gallons per day.
There is still work to be done to expand the use of recycled water throughout the region. One day, recycled water may also become a source of drinking water for the region.
- Irrigation (parks, golf courses, HOA common areas)
- Construction (dust control and grading)
- Lake fill (Lake Mission Viejo)
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