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Posted on: October 14, 2020

In Trampas Canyon, a Vision of the Future Captured with Brush and Paint


Typically, engineers use tools like AutoCAD software and geographic information systems (GIS) to bring their ideas for future projects to life. But sometimes they break out a brush, paint and easels to depict their visions.

Santa Margarita Water District’s General Manager Dan Ferons has experience with both kinds of tools.

His latest painting illuminates the District’s historic infrastructure project, the Trampas Canyon Dam and Reservoir. The largest in Southern California, Trampas Canyon Reservoir is a smart, eco-enhancing resource that will store recycled water used for irrigation throughout the area.

While it may be months before the reservoir is full, Ferons used the power of imagination to envision it at capacity on a sunny spring day, light sparkling on the calm azure waters. The painting, created with acrylic paints on canvas, grew out of a series of pencil sketches done by Ferons. As he worked on the piece over a week in his improvised art studio in his home’s family room, he relied on photos of the area as a reminder of the scale and perspective of Orange County’s landmark Saddleback Mountain in the background.

The photos posed their own challenges though. The images were taken during a September site visit to the project. Fires burning in the Angeles National Forest and nearby Riverside that week had left much of Orange County under a canopy of smoke, challenging Ferons further to imagine a brighter day. It was such a smokey day, he said, that “the photos looked more like a Star Wars movie set.”

Fortunately, Ferons has had plenty of practice at articulating a future in which this modern-day recycled water repository would increase water resiliency for our drought-prone area. He had first conceived this project 15 years ago in his role as SMWD’s Chief Engineer. With the support of the SMWD Board and tireless efforts of a team of staff and contractors, that vision of local water reliability is a reality.

The painting’s loose brush strokes, rich blue, orange, and yellow colors, and depiction of light evoke the distinctive golden glow of south Orange County. Bright orange wildflowers dot the foreground, which residents of this hilly, serene region may recognize as California poppies.

Ferons’ interest in painting dates back for years. SMWD staff and board members often see him sketching in his notebook during meetings. His friends and family enjoy his hand-crafted holiday cards each year. For Ferons, expressing himself through art is second nature. It’s also something that he has passed on to his daughter, who works as an artist for Disney.

Copies of the painting will be given as gifts on October 9 to those who helped make Trampas Canyon Dam and Reservoir a reality. The original will hang in the SMWD Board Room as an inspiring and artful reminder of the District’s historic project to enhance water supply reliability in the region and the engineers who dreamed it possible.

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