A. Macneil Stelle recalls a time when the only water to be had in the Las Virgenes area came from a few scattered wells--and that was if the wells weren't dry. And the water tasted so bad that you only drank it if you had nothing else to drink.
"Some of the wells had sulfur in them, and they had a rotten-egg smell," he said.
Fed up, Stelle joined a group of fellow residents in an effort to pipe water from the Metropolitan Water District, which was importing water from the Colorado River. In the late 1950s, the citizens formed a committee that eventually became the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District.
In 1963, the agency completed a pipeline to the MWD, bringing quality water to about 3,000 Las Virgenes-area residents. Today, the district serves 65,000 customers over a 122-square-mile area that includes Calabasas, Agoura Hills and Westlake Village.
For that and other accomplishments over his 30 years of service, Stelle was honored last week by the district.
"Mac is a totally giving person," said Steve Gavin of Westlake Village, who was recently elected to replace Stelle as the board's president. Stelle will continue to serve as a board member.
Another colleague, Glen Peterson, called Stelle "a great thinker and a great innovator" for his role in the creation of the Tapia Water Reclamation Facility in the mid-1960s. "We were reclaiming water back when nobody else was reclaiming water," Peterson said.
Stelle, 74, a retired engineer for Rockwell International, is proud of his efforts to persuade the district to get into the business of reclaiming sewage. "The development of real estate was just not possible without having a centralized sewage collection system," he said.
His wife, Alice, has also established a name for herself. She founded the Las Virgenes Regional School District.
Stelle, who lives in Hidden Hills, said his favorite memory is of the dedication of the Westlake Reservoir in 1990. The facility has a state-of-the-art filtration plant and can filter 15 million gallons of water each day, according to the district. It could provide potable drinking water for six months in an emergency.
"That's when we really became an honest-to-God water district," Stelle said. "We finally had a water-storage capacity, and we were not totally at the whims of the Metropolitan Water District."