Where does all the water go?

Elizabeth Ortiz

Saddleback College students enrolled in Peter Borella’s science classes visited the water reclamation plant in San Clemente for extra credit.

The plant is currently under reconstruction and will be able to manage twice the waste material by next year. There is a population of 75,000 and the facility takes into consideration its beachfront community. San Clemente will expand to receive four million gallons of water each day, doubling the two million currently produced.

Eighty-five percent of wastewater comes from the use of dishwashers, washing machines, bathtubs, showers and toilets and the other 15 percent comes from business and manufacturing.

Incoming wastewater settles by way of gravity in its primary treatment stage and an aeration process helps remove the microorganisms, speeding up the process.

More in depth, the facility screens two types of water material. Sand and eggshells are considered one type that undergoes a washer compactor and the other treatment process is for slow-flowing material that include three types of solid material; edible solids, suspended solids and dissolved.

“The number one rule is don’t touch the grit material in the grit room as we enter because the smell will be with you for a week,” warned chief plant operation Mark Gingras.

The air is constantly being scrubbed as a safety precaution, also required by the demands of the regulatory commission, but inside the grit room, The sludge still needs to be processed out.

“Hold your nose, were going in,” said Borella.

The water waste is part of a gravity system that requires the primary sludge to settle out and be skimmed before distribution.

“During the well-run activated sludge system, the smell becomes less potent, indicating that the system is working,” Gringras said.

Aeration basins provide the microorganisms within the material to create balance along with speeding up the process while material starts to separate.

“An aerobic reaction of the microorganisms consume oxygen in order to create the desired product [clean water],” said Keven Wood, a 22-year-old environmental studies major.

The sludge becomes a patties and then gets distributed for nursery product and the cleaned water is then used to water the nearby golf courses, schools, parks, sports fields and recreation areas.

“This is amazing, it’s nice that all the crap doesn’t go into the ocean,” said Attila Toth, a 21-year-old, undecided major.

Borella explained the water is not recommended for drinking due to the amount of metals that still remain after the process. However, by releasing it to the environment over time, sand will suck the metals up and one day it will become drinkable.


Students visit the San Clemente Water Reclamation Plant. (Elizabeth Ortiz)

Saddleback Students walk past a treatment tower in San Clemente

Sludge digestion completes the process during treatment. (Elizabeth Ortiz)

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