Two San Bernardino Valley water districts — the one whose main mission is to import water from Northern California and the one that conserves water in the Bunker Hill Basin — voted Monday to support a plan that would capture 98 percent of local surface water and store it underground.
It was a rare joint love fest — er, meeting — of the San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District directors who came to the San Bernardino Valley Water Conservation District headquarters in Redlands. After three presentations by six staffers, directors applauded, praised the staff, hailed the spirit of cooperation and posed for a picture.
Three directors called it a historic day.
Bob Tincher, deputy general manager of the Valley District, told the gathering that construction of the Seven Oak Dam made capturing water from the Santa Ana River feasible. The district got a permit to take water out of the river in 2010 and began the planning process that led to Monday’s action.
Before the dam was completed in 2000, the river flowed at 82,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). The dam slows the flow to about 7,000 cfs, or 8 percent of its previous speed.
The districts plan to build “Swiss-cheese” walls to slow the flow to 500 cfs so the water seeps into the basin instead of flowing into the Pacific Ocean.
Almost 500 acres of new ponds are planned. The ponds will follow the contours of the land, so they won’t be easily seen.
The easements between them will add another 295 acres to the Habitat Conservation Plan. Corridors for the wildlife also enhance mitigation for endangered species.
After the new system is complete in a few years, it will be able to store 80,000 acre-feet per year.
(An acre-foot fills a football field a foot deep, enough to satisfy the needs of the average family for one to two years.)
“We want to be able to catch whatever is released from the dam,” Tincher said. “It’s a very clean source of supply, so we want to get as much as we can.”
It will double the amount of surface water now stored each year, he said.
Phase 1A of the new system will include a diversion structure, a canal and more recharge ponds. Groundbreaking is tentatively scheduled for May.
Water from the dam will go through the sedimentation basin that is nearly complete north of Greenspot Road. The basin is the size of one and half football fields.
A ribbon-cutting for the new basin will be scheduled soon.
Eight directors on the five-member boards voted unanimously for a joint resolution for a Partnership for Active Recharge. Susan Lien Longville and Steve Copelan, directors on the Valley District board, were absent.
The goal is to eliminate redundancies, streamline and enhance groundwater recharge and habitat conservation, says a press release.
The partnership agreement will help implement the Upper Santa Ana River Wash Plan, the Upper Santa Ana River Habitat Conservation Plan and complete projects to recharge water into the Bunker Hill Basin for use during dry years.
“This partnership reflects the commitment of the two districts’ boards to meet our region’s needs for groundwater recharge and habitat conservation,” Conservation District General Manager Daniel Cozad said. “It will expand the ways we work together to benefit the region and enhance cooperation and efficiency in operations.
“Collaboration is oftentimes difficult in our industry, especially where water or habitats are concerned,” he said. “But I believe, working thoughtfully together, we can more efficiently meet the water and habitat needs of our region.”
Douglas Headrick, general manager for the San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District, agreed.
“Both districts bring valuable resources and relationships to the table to accomplish recharge and species preservation,” he said. “This partnership is a win-win for local tax- and ratepayers, and the sensitive habitats of our region.”
Monday’s action was made possible by a memorandum of understanding approved by the two districts in 2012 to “increase water supply reliability at the lowest cost to our constituents.”
Capturing Santa Ana River storm water is by far the cheapest alternative at $150 per acre-foot. Recycled wastewater costs $600 and water imported from Northern California costs $632. Saltwater desalination costs $1,650 per acre-foot.
The land exchange needed to make the wash plan work requires an act of Congress.
Last year, the House unanimously approved the swap of 327 acres of land disturbed by mining operation for 310 acres to protect endangered species in the Santa Ana River Wash between Highland and Redlands.
The Senate version — SB 357 introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California democrat — has passed the Senate Energy and National Resources Committee. The bill is expected to be bundled with similar bills and considered by the full Senate this year.
Meanwhile, the wash plan itself is being considered in Sacramento by the Bureau of Land Management and the Fish and Wildlife Service awaiting publication in the Federal Register, said Jeff Beeler, the Conservation District’s land use manager.
The plan covers almost 5,000 acres between Alabama Street and the Greenspot bridge. It is an alluvial fan formed by the Santa Ana River and Mill Creek.
“Alluvial fans are rare and unique,” Beeler told the gathering.
“And because they’re rare and unique they have a range of species that are really found nowhere else.”
This includes the San Bernardino kangaroo rat, the Santa Ana River woolystar and the slender-horned spineflower.
The plan is a jigsaw puzzle of activities similar to a city’s general plan, Beeler said. Land is divided into sections for the protection of endangered species, expanded aggregate mining, new wells and water conservation, he said.
The plan also includes transportation improvements.
“All those things are covered in the wash plan,” Beeler said. “There’s also $11 million of private investment by the aggregate miners to upgrade the roads and the local infrastructure for their activities.”
About $26 million of construction is anticipated, he said. Producing local aggregate instead of trucking it in from afar is a huge cost-savings.
“The more local supply you have, the better off our communities will be,” Beeler said. “Plus, you look at the payroll, it’s about $705 million in Cemex and Robertson’s payroll — good blue-collar jobs that you can support a family on.”