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Home > Natural Resources > Water Strategies to Preserve Natural Resource Supplies and Quality

Wastewater management for the rest of us!

Fresh water is a precious commodity ... and getting more precious as climate change and exploding populations stress our arid region's supply of fresh water. Think... reclamation!

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Water is we don't give it much thought. But it's getting more expensive -- both in actual cost, and cost to the stability of our ecosystem. And wastewater treatment is the safety system we depend on for drinking water, sewer services, and surface water protection.

The Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County is a regional collaborative of 78 cities and unincorporated areas that has been working to keep Southern California water and waste under control since 1923. It has some of the largest waste treatment facilities in the country -- and the world because of the size of our county and the density of our urban area.

Outfall System

Seventeen of the Districts in the metropolitan Los Angeles area are served by the Joint Outfall System (JOS) that includes 73 cities. Why is that important?

They share upstream water reclamation plants that capture higher quality wastewaer and convert it into a drought-proof source of water called "reclaimed water".

And downstream, the Joint Water Pollution Control Plant (JWPCP) treats wastewater with a higher industrial profile and the solids removed at the upstream plants.

This innovative configuration of wastewater treatment set the standard for use in other parts of the country -- but that's beside the real point. The real benefit of this system is that Southern California's desert ecosystem is short on local water -- and reclamation is essential to water our lawns, provide smooth sewage flow and even revitalize our well water sources for drinking water.

Our arid land requires reuse. And the Joint Water Pollution Control Plant and Joint Outfall System make that possible.

The Joint Outfall System

There are 6 water reclamation plants in the system stretching from Long Beach to La Canada. And the JWPCP in Carson discharges its treated water to the ocean.

Water for Agriculture and Wildlife Habitats

Not all wastewater is urban. Some comes from California's rich agricultural regions such as the Santa Clarita Valley and the Antelope Valley.

These valley areas are home to 2 water reclamation plants that process runoff water from agriculture that must be cleansed of chemicals from fertilizer and pesticide use. And made clean enough for release in wildlife water sites such as lakes, streams and wetlands. These wild areas also recharge our region's underground fresh water system -- that is shared by humans.

Reuse of Reclaimed Water

Water reclamation and reuse is becoming an integral part of the water picture for Los Angeles County, home to 10 million people. Hundreds of sites across the county are receiving reclaimed water in lieu of drinking water for a variety of non-potable applications, with hundreds more scheduled to be brought on-line over the next few years.

Learn more about the Water Reuse Partnership

The Sanitation Districts of LA County are pioneers in using recycled water and remain strong proponents of expanding reuse options.

Upstream water recovery programs produce a high-quality source of reclaimed water that can meet drinking water standards and is reused at more than 530 sites throughout the county.

Wastewater received at the regional wastewater treatment facility (JWPCP) is higher in salts, making it less practical to reclaim and reuse.

Recycled water uses include:

  • Industrial applications
  • Commercial applications
  • Recreational applications
  • Groundwater recharge
  • Agricultural applications
  • Landscape, Park, and Golf Course irrigation

Biosolids From Wastewater Treatment

Biosolids -- yes, THOSE biosolids -- amount to 550,000 tons per year in LA County alone. That's a lot of #2. Prior to dewatering, the biosolids are digested to produce a biogas that is converted to electricity or used for heating parts of the biological process.

These biosolids make the wastewater treatement facility energy self-sufficient and excess electricity is supplied to the power grid. Not that we want to rely on this process for our electricity, but as long as we have bodily waste -- it's smart to use it effectively.

Biosolids are also beneficially reused as a soil amendment for agriculture, in the manufacture of compost and by injecting it into a cement kiln, it can help reduce emissions through co-disposal with refuse in a landfill.

Longrange Plan for Sustainability

The Sanitation District is expanding use of two state-of-the-art composting sites.

The Inland Empire Regional Composting Facility, Rancho Cucamonga

This composting facility is entirely enclosed, and developed in conjunction with the Inland Empire Utilities Agency.

The Westlake Farms Co-Composting Facility, Kings County

This composting facility will digest biosolids with the Central Valley's agricultural waste and green waste, starting in 2010.


To maximize efficiency and reduce costs, the Santiation Districts function on a regional scale consisting of 24 independent special districts serving 5.3 million people in Los Angeles County. The area includes 820 square miles and encompasses 78 cities and unincorporated territories. That's big.

A total of 1,379 miles of sewer lines and 11 wastewater treatment plants treat 480 million gallons PER DAY! Of this volume, 170 gallons are available after a high level of treatment, for reuse in dry Southern California. That's 35% of the water!

The Sanitation District also handles sanitary landfills, landfill energy recovery facilities, recycle centers, materials recovery/transfer facilities and refuse-to-energy facilities.

Recycling and reclamation are essential to a sustainable community. This regional collaborative has chosen many green and sustainable pathways that enable the communities to thrive in spite of being located in an arid region -- but we have more challenges ahead of us as we face dwindling imported water supplies, shifts in agricultural operations as climate change affects not only temperatures but precipitation patterns.

And don't overlook waste treatment for green careers -- there are jobs here... good, green jobs to be had in waste!

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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