As Southern California’s most recent rainstorm was moving into the Inland Empire on Thursday morning, May 23, San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District celebrated the completion of an enhanced recharge project designed to enable the district to capture water from Santa Ana River during rainstorms, improving the district’s ability to recharge groundwater supply by 80,000 acre-feet a year.

The district hosted it partner Western Municipal Water District as well as other local water agencies for the opening of a new diversion channel and sedimentation basin constructed south of Seven Oaks Dam and just north of Greenspot Road last year.

The new sedimentation basin can accommodate up to 500 cubic feet per second.

The $14 million project, completed November 2018, was Phase 1A of the larger Stormwater Management Project that will enable to the district to recharge the local groundwater with up to 80,000 acre-feet a year during wet years in additional recharge by capturing previously unallocated stormwater runoff.

The cities of Highland, Redlands, Loma Linda, Colton, San Bernardino, Rialto, Riverside and Yucaipa will all benefit from this new source of clean and cost effective water, Headrick said.

The sedimentation basin is designed to settle and remove sand and debris stirred into the Santa Ana River by rain events before diverting it into the district’s recharge basins. Previously, stormwater was allowed to run downstream because the sediment and debris would clog the recharge basins.

According to SBVMWD General Manager Douglas Headrick, by enabling the district to capture stormwater the project has created something rare and prized in Southern California, new water rights.

The district and its project partners spent 19 years sorting those water rights, a task that, when completed in 2010, launched the stormwater management project. The past nine years were spent permitting, designing and constructing the project.

“It took years of planning and millions of dollars in studies to get to this point⎯ trying to determine how to capture the most water from the largest stream in Southern California while at the same time protecting all downstream uses and the environment,” Headrick said.

Approximately $1 million the first phase was funded by a Prop 84 grant, a grant program specifically designed to help California agencies improve their stormwater capturing capabilities.

Phase 1B is in the design and permitting process and is expected to begin by 2020. Once additional phases add new pipelines and additional spreading basins the project will more than double the district’s recharging capacity.

An environmental wetlands area is also proposed for later phases.

Editor's note: Corrections were made to this article June 3, 2019.

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