Santee Lakes wins top ARVC environmental stewardship award

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SANTEE, Calif. — For the third time in five years, Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve has won the Plan-It-Green Award from the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC).

“This is a great honor that really helps us showcase our growing array of green initiatives,” said Laura Koval, who manages the 300-site Santee Lakes campground, a public campground that is managed by Padre Dam Municipal Water District.

Santee Lakes also won the Better Business Bureau’s Torch Award for Environmental Stewardship, a highly competitive award involving every category of business in San Diego and Orange Counties. Santee Lakes’ three Plan-It-Green Awards, combined with its Torch Award from the Better Business Bureau and its two Park of the Year Awards from ARVC in 2013 and 2014 make it one of the most highly acclaimed parks in the campground business.

Santee Lakes has a long history of green initiatives.

The park has always been owned by Padre Dam Municipal Water District, which started recycling wastewater in the late 1950s, making it one of the nation’s oldest water recycling installations.

Padre Dam currently generates about 2 million gallons of recycled water each day, half of which flows through the seven recreation lakes at Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve. The other half is used to irrigate landscaping in the Santee area, a suburban community about 18 miles northwest of downtown San Diego.

While swimming is not permitted in the lakes, the lakes do support several different species of fish, including bass, trout, catfish, carp and bluegill. The Santee Lakes campground sells day use permits for fishing, a popular activity at the park, which also offers pedal boat, rowboat and canoe rentals.

Prior to Koval’s arrival in December 2014, Santee Lakes had also installed four acres’ worth of solar panels, which collectively produce 1 million kilowatts of electricity. That’s enough electricity to cover half the park’s power needs, including its RV and tent sites, its clubhouse, its electronic gates and its 10 park model RVs from Champion’s Athens Park Homes division, three of which are unique floating cabins on a lake. A separate solar system was also installed to help heat the park’s two swimming pools and Jacuzzi.

More recent green initiatives under Koval’s management include a $1.7 million park improvement project that included the installation of 55,000 square feet of sod and the planting of 200 trees, including sycamores, oaks, cottonwoods, carrotwoods and other water efficient trees on the west side of the campground, which are irrigated using recycled water from Padre Dam as well as underground seepage from the lakes. These new trees complement many existing mature shade trees and sod in the campground.

And Koval said Santee Lakes is about to get even better.

Earlier this month, Padre Dam Municipal Water District issued a Request for Qualifications for an active water recreation amenity, such as a surf park, a cable ski park or aqua park.

“We’re conducting a two part selection process” Koval said. “First is the RFQ to establish a ‘short list’ of qualified developers. The second will ask the selected developers to provide a detailed proposal in an RFP process.”

Another major park improvement project involves a $10 million makeover of the hub of the Santee Lakes park and campground, which will include a coffee bar and grill; retail stores; a 300-person dining deck over the water; and additional rental accommodations. These improvements, Koval said, are not only intended to generate additional revenue, but to showcase the benefits of water recycling.

Koval hopes to have the new improvements completed within two years.

“It’s been a crazy few months!” said Koval, who was born and raised in rural East San Diego County and built successful careers in community service, marketing and customer retention before going into the campground business four years ago.

As if Koval doesn’t have enough challenges managing Santee Lakes, she was elected to the Santee City Council in the November election and was sworn in Dec. 12. She said Santee, like many cities, may struggle with a budgetary shortfall in the near future, but she has experience that can help put the city on a stronger financial footing. “That’s my area of expertise: budgeting and revenue generation and thinking of creative ways to generate income. I just felt that with my experience, I should run,” she said.

Koval initially worked for the Boys and Girls Clubs of East San Diego County and subsequently spent 28 years working in various positions for the San Diego Padres baseball team, ultimately becoming their director of ticket services and fan loyalty. She became director of Santee Lakes campground in December 2014.

Santee Lakes is affiliated with the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC), which hosts Camp-California.com, the travel planning website.

For more information on Santee Lakes, please visit http://www.santeelakes.com/campground/.

Ronnie Wendt

Ronnie Wendt

Ronnie Wendt has been a writer/editor for more than 25 years, working in law enforcement, aviation, supply chain and the RV industry. She's not a stranger to RVs, however. She grew up camping, and still camps as many weekends as she can every year. She is the owner of In Good Company Communications and can be reached at ingoodcompanycommunications@gmail.com.

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