The sludge. The stench. The treatment. The clearing. It’s all part of a process that goes on 24/7 at the Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plant in Van Nuys.

“When your water goes down your drain, most people think it just disappears,” but in reality it gets recycled, says Joline Munoz, one of L.A.’s Sanitation‘s top environmental engineers.

Say you wash your hands, “The water goes down the drain and it combines with everyone else’s water and goes into a really big pipe that leads to the treatment plant.”

Treatment plants like the one in the Sepulveda Basin transform the water we don’t want into water we do.

We took the Toyota Mobile Weather Lab out to the reclamation plant to see environmental engineering in action.

When wastewater makes the trek from our drains to the plant, it is arrives in a condition you could call filthy.

“We have to provide a service, which is sanitation and cleaning the water, but then we also have neighbors and we want to make sure we don’t disturb them with foul orders.”

Tank covers and pipes that capture gases are employed during the first stages of treatment. From there, dirty water goes to the strainer.

“We screen out big things that are in the water,” like car parts and baby wipes.

“Smaller things are not going to be able to catch, like people’s wedding rings.”

Once the big stuff is out, wastewater goes into tanks filled with bacteria.

The germs “consume parts in the water and it cleans the water,” she says.

As water gets cleaner, wildlife moves in.

“The ducks love it.”

Of all the STEAM disciplines — science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics — Munoz relies most on science, technology, math and most of all, engineering.

By the end of the treatment, not only does the water look clear, testing shows it’s clean enough to irrigate golf courses, gardens and feed local wildlife preserves, including Lake Balboa.

The responsibility can be overwhelming at times but Munoz believes the payoff is worth it.

“I’ve always been interested in protecting the environment,” she says. “Water promotes life.”


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