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By Collin Breaux

The Santa Margarita Water District is getting started on its first drinking water treatment plant, which will be in Rancho Mission Viejo.

SMWD representatives and local officials celebrated the coming new plant with a groundbreaking ceremony on Wednesday, Nov. 16. The Ranch Water Filtration Plant will be located near the intersection of Ortega Highway and Antonio Parkway, and near the Chiquita Water Reclamation Plant.

The plant will treat groundwater from the San Juan Basin to supply some 1.6 billion gallons of drinking water per year to customers, according to SMWD Public Information officer Nicole Stanfield. Currently, all the district’s water is sourced from Northern California and the Colorado River.

The plant, however, would establish a local source of drinking water.

“It’s been a long time coming, but it’s pretty exciting we’re getting things underway,” said Frank Ury, vice president for SMWD’s Board of Directors. “With the groundbreaking, it’s an indication we’ve accepted the challenge—especially in South County—of providing additional drinking water, and water, in general, for the region.”

Santa Margarita Water District General Manager Dan Ferons gives remarks during a Nov. 16 groundbreaking ceremony for the new Ranch Water Filtration Plant. Photo: Collin Breaux

The Santa Margarita Board of Directors set a goal to diversify its water supply by 2030 by accomplishing three objectives: creating a local drinking water supply; re-cycling 100 percent of its wastewater; and establishing a six-month supply of drinking water stored in the service area for an emergency, Stanfield said.

“The 30 percent of our drinking water locally sourced goal provides the district with more control as far as cost is concerned,” she said. “It also helps ensure that we have water in emergency situations. The 30% is in the range of customers’ indoor water use so, in an emergency, people could take showers and have water to drink. The Ranch Water Filtration Plant is a key element in reaching that goal.”

The construction of the treatment plant comes as new homes are being built in Rancho Mission Viejo and as South Orange County continues to grow, in general. SMWD has also already built the Trampas Canyon Reservoir and Dam to recycle water.

The plant is estimated to cost roughly $10 million to build and will begin its first phase of operation in early 2024. Grading has started, and construction will begin soon thereafter.

An existing pipeline will carry the water from wells in the basin to the plant. Initially, the plant will supply about 2.9 million gallons of drinking water per year from treated groundwater. Treatment will include ultra or micro filtration, reverse osmosis, UV disinfection, and chloramination to meet all drinking water standards, Stanfield said.

“Additionally, SMWD plans to recharge the San Juan groundwater basin with recycled water to bring the amount of water available for treatment up to 1.6 billion gallons per year—about 20 percent of the district’s drinking water supply,” she said.

Ury said they are “really proud of the project” and look forward to working with legislators on the project.

“The Ranch is our partner here, and we call it the Ranch Water Treatment Plant for a reason, in that they formed the district way back when in 1964 with their vision of the need for water and wastewater supply right here,” SMWD General Manager Dan Ferons said. “Tony Moiso (RMV CEO) has helped shepherd this along for a long time. His team that’s here really has helped us with that vision.”

RMV President Jeremy Laster said it was important for them to attend the groundbreaking since they are a participant and beneficiary with all the “innovative work” going on at SMWD.

“We are proud to have front-row seats to all that you’re working on, and we look forward to continuing to partner with you as we move forward in the years to come,” Laster said. “I’d like to congratulate the board, the leadership and the staff of the district on another amazing project and to recognize your continued efforts to lead and be cutting-edge in the world of smart water management.”

Representatives from the offices of State Assemblymember Laurie Davies, Congressman Mike Levin and Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett read proclamations honoring the coming plant.

California Department of Water Resources Engineer Salomon Miranda also congratulated everyone involved in the project.

“We are so proud to support this very important project,” Miranda said. “The nearly $4.6 million awarded to the district was made possible by the Urban and Multi-Benefit Drought Relief Program from the state but, more importantly, I think this is a great example of local and state government working together to benefit local communities as we prepare for a hotter and drier future.”

SMWD serves San Juan Capistrano, San Clemente, communities in RMV and other areas.

Collin Breaux

Collin Breaux covers San Juan Capistrano and other South Orange County news as the City Editor for The Capistrano Dispatch. Before moving to California, he covered Hurricane Michael, politics and education in Panama City, Florida. He can be reached by email at

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comments (1)

  • Jerry Nieblas, historic pre-Mission/Early California Rancho descendant Reply

    71 years now in my historic San Juan Capistrano hometown. It’s been really sad to see/experience all our valuable water resources/sheds being drained and used up! I remember well when our creeks/streams ran most of the year and fish and game thrived in and along our creek’s! Now all I see is dried up creek beds, water supplies constantly being sucked up from,these sites and more new homes/communities being built! You tell us to conserve water and yet you use all our water resources to meet the needs of the many plus two, three or more bathroom homes that you build. What have we gotten in return? We’ve definitely gotten dried up creeks that are now full of massive over growth and homeless encampments. It’s been sad to see the destruction and collection/draining of the water from our once beautiful, living and thriving creeks! Way to go!! Is this what you call “progress”?

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