STERLING ground view 8-3

Ground view of the Sterling Natural Resources Center.

plan to pay the East Valley Water District $173 per acre-foot of recycled wastewater used to recharge San Bernardino groundwater basins was approved Tuesday by the San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District.

The decision comes five days before the groundbreaking ceremony for the Sterling Natural Resource Center in west Highland, which is expected to recharge San Bernardino groundwater basins with up to 11 million gallons of recycled water a day after its completion in 2021.

The groundbreaking is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at Del Rosa Drive between Fifth and Sixth streets.

The 20-year agreement will provide $2 million in revenue. It was approved 4-0 by the Valley District board with Director Steve Copelan absent.

Recycled wastewater will provide nearly three-quarters of the water needed for the 352-square-mile Valley District, according to a report by Deputy General Manager Bob Tincher.

Recycled water from the Sterling center will cost $600 per acre-foot. It will reduce the amount of water imported from Northern California, which costs $630 per acre-foot.

(An acre-foot would fill a football field one foot deep, enough to satisfy the needs of the average California family for one or two years.)

“As our current drought continues to grip our region and the reliability of State Water Project continues to be plagued by various uncertainties, Valley District continues to look for ways to identify and implement projects that will help provide a more robust, long-term portfolio of reliable water supplies for our region,” Tincher writes.

That includes a plan to capture 98 percent of the surface water from the Santa Ana River approved by the Valley District and the San Bernardino Valley Water Conservation District on Sept. 10. Surface water costs $150 per acre-foot.

“However, development of recycled water, the so-called ‘drought-proof supply,’ continues to be relatively untapped in our region,” Tincher said.

Five wastewater treatment plants now operate within Valley District boundaries. Two of them, one in Redlands and one in Yucaipa, are already recharging the basins. The others are operated by Colton, Rialto and San Bernardino.

The San Bernardino Water Department is designing the first phase of a wastewater recycling plant called the Clean Water Factory.

In 2011 the department, the Valley District, Riverside Pubic Utilities and the Western Municipal Water District began planning to use wastewater that now flows down the Santa Ana River into the ocean as a source of groundwater recharge when they signed a memorandum of understanding.

“The current drought, the reduced reliability of imported water from the State Water Project and the availability of grant funds for recycled water projects led to the conclusion that it was important to develop a regional recycled water strategy,” Tincher said.

In July 2015, Valley District directors agreed to fund the “Regional Recycled Water Concept Study” along with the East Valley and Yucaipa Valley districts. Yucaipa Valley is considering expanding its recycled wastewater plant.

Also on Tuesday, Valley District directors approved $814,500 to fund a groundwater sustainability plan for the Yucaipa basin.

With advice from the Metropolitan Water District, which operates the State Water Project, the Valley District created the Local Resources Investment Program to help finance expansion of the recycled water system.

A 2015 survey by the State Water Resources Control Board found 714,000 acre-feet per year of recycled water was beneficially used, an increase of 45,000 acre-feet per year since the last survey in 2009. The survey said 31 percent was used for agricultural irrigation, 18 percent for landscape irrigation and 16 percent for groundwater recharge.

Non-potable uses — water not meant for human consumption — accounted for about three-quarters of recycled water use. The rest was potable water. About 16 percent was used for groundwater recharge and 8 percent went to seawater intrusion barriers.

The use of potable water used for groundwater recharge increased 44 percent between 2009 and 2015. During the same period, the use of recycled water in agriculture decreased 25 percent.

However, the survey found California is not on track to meet the goals of increasing recycled water use to 1.5 million acre-feet per year by 2020 — more than twice the amount used in 2015 — and to 2.5 million by 2030.

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