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Groundwater replenishment facility expands

By Tina Richards Residents struggling to meet

mandated water usage cuts due to the statewide drought may be heartened to learn that, as grim as the situation is, the foothill com- munities will not run dry. About 70 percent of the wa-

ter used by customers of the six local water agencies – Orange, Tustin, Serrano, IRWD, Golden State, East Orange -- is pumped from an aquifer that rests beneath north and central Orange County. That aquifer used to be recharged entirely by the Santa Ana River and rainfall, and was thus subject to the same drought conditions of above ground reservoirs. In 2008, the Orange County

Water District opened a large- scale groundwater replenishment system that takes treated waste water from the OC Sanitation District, purifies it, and trans- ports it to catch basins, where it percolates back into the aquifer. It has, for the past seven years, replenished the groundwater sys- tem with 70 million gallons of clean water every day – water that would have otherwise been dumped into the ocean.

Grounds for celebration OCWD’s groundwater replen-

ishment system has now expand- ed to process 100 million gallons a day. Marked by a dedication ceremony, June 16, the larger sys- tem promises to further reduce central and north Orange Coun- ty’s dependence on imported wa- ter. The output is enough to meet the needs of 850,000 residents, uses half the energy required to deliver imported water, and costs about $520 per acre-foot.


comparison, San Diego’s new de- salinization plant will cost some $2,000 per acre-foot. State-mandated cutbacks, how-

ever, apply to all water use, re- gardless of its source. The State Water Control Board developed a formula based on residential gal- lons used per capita per day. It is applied to every water district in

California as a “one size fits all” solution to save water, even if a given district has an indepen- dent supply. The Orange County Water District does not get any “credit” for its recycling efforts.

From waste to good taste The replenishment plant is, to

date, the only one of its kind in the world and has been recognized as an international model for sus- tainability. Jointly funded by the OC Water District and OC Sanita- tion, it was conceived to solve two agency problems. The sanitation district was looking for an alterna- tive destination for its wastewater as its ocean outfall was nearing capacity. The water district need- ed more of the resource to pump into the coastal aquifer to prevent seawater intrusion. Today, the sanitation district supplies sec- ondary treated wastewater at no charge; the water district manages and funds the replenishment op- eration. The seawater buffer goal has expanded to include recharg- ing the entire aquifer. Reclaiming wastewater is a

three-step process. An initial mi- crofiltration process suspends sol- ids, protozoa, bacteria and some viruses; next, water enters a re- verse osmosis system to remove salts, organic chemicals, more viruses and pharmaceuticals. Fi- nally, water is exposed to high intensity ultraviolet light with hy- drogen peroxide to disinfect and remove biological materials and organic chemical compounds at the parts per trillion level. The original investment was

$481 million, the expansion cost $142 million. There is room for one more expansion, but that’s it. The plant’s Fountain Valley lo- cation can’t get any bigger. For now, however, plant capacity is more than enough. The sanitation district reports a shrinking supply of sewage. Because people are conserving water, they are pro- ducing less waste. Wastewater coming into the sanitation district has gone down by about 20 per- cent since 2004.

As featured in LIFE, on ABC’s Prime Time Live and more!


While state-mandated cutbacks have been in effect just a short time, voluntary water conservation has been measurable over the last year. The mandated cuts will be compared to water consumption of the same month starting in 2013. At the end of February 2016, the water districts will be “graded.” Chart courtesy Denis Bilodeau, vice president, OC Water District Board.

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