CERRITOS — It is one thing to build parks where water is naturally plentiful.
It is quite another to plant greenbelts on the edge of a desert where rain is rare and water comes in concrete canals from sources hundreds of miles away; Southern California is such a place, but cities like Cerritos have defied the elements, using imported water to transform large stretches of suburban landscape into lush patches of grass, flowers and trees.
The greening of Cerritos, however, has become an expensive--and uncertain--proposition.
Prices for imported water--the source of about half the city's supplies--have risen 60% since 1982 and during periods of drought officials fear deliveries might slow to a trickle.
Cerritos officials estimate the city's water bill will run close to $157,000 for parks, street medians and public grounds during fiscal 1985-86.
In a move to cut those costs and protect its future, the City Council on Thursday is expected to push ahead with an $8.5-million project to irrigate Cerritos parks, street medians and areas around public buildings with treated sewage and wastewater.
While water reclamation is not a new science, few cities have taken full advantage of the process, largely because of the expense of installing a system to move treated effluent from treatment plants to sprinklers.
First City in Area
When completed, Cerritos will become the first city in southeast Los Angeles County to irrigate public lands entirely with treated wastewater. (Since 1980, Long Beach has been using reclaimed water to irrigate four city golf courses, several schools and El Dorado Park on the east side.)
Cerritos officials say that without state participation, the project still might be just an idea. About half the project's cost will be covered by $4.5 million in grants from the state Water Resources Board. The city is paying the balance.
Four companies have submitted bids to install about 20 miles of new pipeline and a pumping station needed to move the treated effluent from the treatment plant to city sprinklers. The council is expected Thursday night to select one of four firms for the project--Gates and Fox Inc. of Sacramento; MACCO Constructors Inc., of Paramount; C.K. Pump and Dewatering, of Signal Hill; and Dorfman Construction Co., Woodland Hills.
County Treatment Plant
The city's wastewater is treated at the Los Angeles County Sanitation District treatment plant in the northwest corner of the city near the 91 and 605 freeway interchange.
The treated waste is now released into the San Gabriel River to be carried to the ocean. Ron Babel, city water superintendent, said the treated water is safe for aquatic life and human contact. But it is not considered safe for drinking, and therefore will not be offered for general use to the city's 14,800 residential or commercial users, Babel said.
The water has no smell, and is considered 85% to 90% pure, a county sanitation official said. To the average person, there is no difference between reclaimed and tap water.
Besides irrigating city land, Cerritos plans to sell the treated water at a discount to other public agencies. Those interested include ABC Unified School District, Artesia Cemetery District, Bellflower Christian Schools and the California Department of Transportation. Caltrans would use the water to irrigate landscape along area freeways.
Used for Seven Years
Reclaimed water has been sprinkling Cerritos' nine-hole golf course, the Iron Wood Nine, for seven years. The city-owned course is next to the treatment plant.
"Cerritos is a very greenbelt-oriented city," Babel said. "But there is concern about the cost of water and the dependability of imported sources in the future. Using reclaimed water gives us more flexibility.
"For example, during a drought it's possible the state might ban all non-essential water uses, such as irrigating parks and street medians," he said. "We could lose thousand of dollars in plantings. But with reclaimed water we might not be affected by the ban."
To transport water from the treatment plant to parks throughout Cerritos, a new pipeline will be buried along the San Gabriel River flood channel and beneath city streets. The pipes will have a capacity to carry 1,500 to 4,000 acre-feet of treated effluent a year. (An acre-foot is roughly 325,000 gallons or the average amount used annually by a family of five.)
Because the city has discussed water reclamation since the mid-1970s, some pipes for the system have been installed in recent years as streets were repaved.
About half of Cerritos' water comes from three city wells that pump supplies from a huge aquifer--a natural underground reservoir that traps and stores water.
The rest is purchased from the Central Water Basin, one of 27 member agencies of the Metropolitan Water District, the mammoth Los Angeles-based water wholesaler and importer. Without imported water there would be shortages in Cerritos and most other Southern California cities.