Sci-Fi Sewage Sanctuary - Atlas Obscura

Van Nuys, CA

Sci-Fi Sewage Sanctuary

Tour a water recycling plant better known as Starfleet Academy, and the Japanese garden it irrigates with toilet water.

Everybody poops, and in a sprawling metropolis as big as LA, all that poo water has to go somewhere—so why not a garden?

Join Field Agent Benjamin Harmon on an epic voyage to a wastewater treatment plant in Van Nuys, whose recycled water reaches its final frontier at either the Hyperion Treatment Plant in Playa Del Rey, or next door in its own Japanese Garden—which is aptly referred to as the "garden of water and fragrance," and is irrigated with reclaimed water from the plant.

One of the leading producers of reclaimed water in the San Fernando Valley, the Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plant recycles as much as 26 million gallons of toilet water per day, relieving the overburdened portions of the wastewater collection system between the San Fernando Valley and Hyperion. Although few get to tour its sprawling campus, many recognize its futuristic Administration Building as a shooting location for numerous films and television shows, including Star Trek's Starfleet Academy. 

On our private tour of the treatment facility, the very knowledgeable (and aptly named) director of the Japanese Garden, Gene Greene, will show us the various processes used to separate solids from the wastewater, filter the water, and disinfect it. The entire process takes nearly a half day.

Afterwards, we'll embark on an exclusive guided tour by Japanese Garden board member Michael Fritzen, whose credits include work with the Natural History Museum of LA County, LA Zoo, Autry Museum, the Huntingtonthe Skirball Cultural Center, and the LA Puppet Festival.

Michael will lead us through the 6.5-acre garden, designed by world-famous designer Dr. Koichi Kawara, also responsible for Japanese botanical gardens at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and San Diego's Balboa Park. We'll learn about Japanese landscaping, and how Kawara fashioned this garden after “stroll gardens” constructed during the 18th and 19th centuries for Japanese Feudal lords. 

On our stroll, we'll witness the 2.75-acre lake that is filled with the plant's treated water, and a waterfall, which is the main entry of water from the reclamation plant into the lake, where about three million gallons of reclaimed water pass through daily. 

After the garden tour, we will get to sit back and relax as Michael teaches us how to make a Japanese scroll painting, and we will each get to take one home with us. 

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  • Please arrive early for parking and check-in. We must begin promptly at 11 am.
  • Unfortunately this facility is not handicap accessible.
  • Please wear sturdy shoes and be prepared for at least two hours of walking, standing, and climbing up and down stairs.
  • A portion of our tour will be outside, so please wear sun protection (sunglasses, hat, sunscreen).
  • We will be supplied with hard hats to wear, which are required for the plant tour.
  • This is an active plant with lots of working machinery with moving parts, open containers, sights and smells. Please be careful, and please no touching!
  • A liability waiver is required for this event.


Email Benjamin Harmon at

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