In a symbolic photo op for an already expensive project, Malibu broke ground on the Civic Center Wastewater Treatment Facility using golden shovels at Winter Canyon on Wednesday morning, June 29.
“Today we’re beginning construction on Malibu’s largest infrastructure project in its short history,” Mayor Laura Rosenthal said. “But it’s really more than that — it’s a true turning point and the culmination of a story that started decades ago.”
The groundbreaking signifies the beginning of construction of Phase 1 of the extensive project, which is estimated to cost Civic Center landowners, including the city, $47 million dollars. The concept of building a large-scale wastewater facility to replace septic tanks has met resistance among Malibu residents since the idea was first proposed in 2011, but the district most affected by Phase 1 has shown approval.
“This year, the assessment district passed with 98 percent of the vote, clearly demonstrating that the stakeholders are squarely behind this project,” Rosenthal said.
Phase 1 primarily affects businesses in the Malibu Civic Center, but not all “stakeholders” are businesses.
“We always refer to people as ‘stakeholders.’ Today, what I see [are] people who are proud of being able to celebrate clean water, moving forward in a positive way,” Regional Water Quality Control Board Member Francine Diamond said. “It’s a wonderful story of public servants, and the public working together for common goals for the future.”
Malibu’s public wasn’t always so eager to work with its public servants. Rosenthal’s speech included a short history about the City of Malibu and described how its resistance to the sewer project predates Malibu’s cityhood.
The original fight was against overdevelopment of the city. In 2009, after the Regional Water Quality Control Board implemented a ban on Malibu Civic Center’s septic tanks, the sewer became an environmental issue. As Malibu became more focused on protecting the environment, the wastewater facility became more of a reality.
“Fortunately, things have changed in Malibu, and Malibu has gone from having a bad reputation as a beach polluter to being recognized as an environmental leader, committed to protecting the ocean, beaches, water, and our community and the 15 million people who come here to visit regularly,” Rosenthal said.
Once constructed, the facility is meant to provide Malibu with 70 million gallons of recycled water per year. This recycled water can be used for irrigation or other landscaping needs but cannot be used as drinking water.
From June 2015 to June 2016, the 22,175 residents of District 29 — which serves customers in Malibu and Topanga — used 2.15 billion gallons of potable water. Malibu has an estimated population of 13,000.
“We can’t afford to use our drinking water once and then throw it away without making beneficial use of it,” Associate Water Director of the Environmental Protection Agency John Kemmerer said, going on to say that water recycling infrastructure programs have been developed across California.
In fiscal year 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency provided more than $178 million for state-revolving loan projects. In total, the EPA has contributed over $4.7 billion toward water infrastructure projects in California.
Kemmerer commended Malibu’s facility for incorporating recycled water usage and reiterated that California was in the fifth year of a historic drought.
Malibu’s District 29 was recently removed from the phased water conservation plans by the Los Angeles County Waterworks Board of Advisors due to consistent water conservation efforts by residents proving that mandated conservation was unnecessary. The wastewater treatment facility’s effectiveness could be expanded through further developments.
“The fact that we’ve learned now how to meet and talk will make it a lot easier. I want to remind you this is Phase 1. There is a Phase 2 and — guess what? — there is a Phase 3,” Vice Chair of State Water Resources Control Board Frances Spivy-Weber said.
Despite Spivy-Weber’s comment, City Manager Reva Feldman has said Phase 3 will only occur depending on the outcome of Phases 1 and 2.
The first phase of the facility’s construction is expected to be completed by November 2017.