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His Own Waterworld : Stephen Moe Keeps Lake Balboa's Reclaimed Water Safe for Wildlife


ENCINO — Stephen Moe skims the lake shortly after dawn in a 16-foot aluminum boat and begins another day of what he calls "the greatest job I have ever had."

"I get to work outside with wildlife," Moe said. "Ride a boat on a lake, help improve the area and, most of all, I get paid for it."

Moe's job does not take him to a lake in a remote area fed by mountain streams. He and his four-person crew are the water testers at Lake Balboa, the largest body of water in the city of Los Angeles, located on the northern edge of Encino.

The headwaters for this bucolic lake stream from the Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plant, a sewage facility that processes more than 60 million tons of waste per day. About half of the reclaimed water coming out of the plant flows into Lake Balboa.

Moe and his crew daily monitor pH balances and dissolved oxygen levels in the 27-acre lake to make sure the water is safe for wildlife. Human beings have to be a bit more careful--numerous signs in the area proclaim: "Reclaimed Water, Do Not Drink."

Fishing is encouraged, however, and on most days people can be spotted trying to catch the catfish, trout, bluegill and bass stocked in the lake.

But how is it that fish caught in water not safe enough to drink are OK to eat?

Moe--whose title is water manager for the city of Los Angeles' Recreation and Parks Department, Valley Region--insists that it's OK as long as you remove the skin and internal organs. "The parts of the fish you eat are the ones that don't come in contact with the water," he explained.

By the time the water reaches the lake, solid wastes have been removed and bacteria have been destroyed by chlorination. An underwater aeration system helps keep the lake oxygenated.

To check that reclamation processes are working well, Moe and the crew regularly gather water samples and bring them back to the 12-by-40-foot trailer that is their office and field laboratory. The samples are examined under a microscope by either Moe or Gene Montes, whose official title is gardener/caretaker.

After checking Lake Balboa, the crew drives to nearby Woodley Avenue Park to do similar tests on a smaller lake there, which also is fed by processed Tillman water.

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