Sterling Natural Resource Center

April 18, 2019
A new sustainable water resource for California’s Inland Empire Region

IN APRIL 2015, Governor Jerry Brown and myriad water experts proclaimed, for the first time in California history, that the drought had become the “new normal” for the state. While water conservation became a new way of life for many residents, East Valley Water District, a California Special District providing water and wastewater treatment services to residents in the City of Highland and portions of the City and County of San Bernardino, knew that as a steward of this resource it needed to take action. To insulate California’s Inland Empire—a region that has experienced drought conditions over the last two decades—East Valley Water District set its sights on an innovative project that would create a sustainable source of water for more than 800,000 residents: the Sterling Natural Resource Center.

Located on a 14-acre parcel of undeveloped land at North Del Rosa Drive between East 5th Street and East 6th Street in Highland, CA, the Sterling Natural Resource Center will be a state-of-the-art wastewater treatment facility that will optimize natural resources and turn wastewater into a new and sustainable water source for the region. Slated for completion in 2021, the Sterling Natural Resource Center will treat 8 million gallons of water per day, with the ability to treat up to 10 million gallons of wastewater daily, to recharge the local Bunker Hill Groundwater Basin. The facility will transform and enhance the region by creating a sustainable source of water for use by residents in Highland, San Bernardino, Colton, Loma Linda, Redlands, Rialto, and Riverside.

Following treatment, the recycled water will be recharged and stored for use during future drought years—directly responding to the State of California’s call for creating new water supplies and establishing responsible groundwater management. Beyond boosting the region’s water independence, the facility also enables East Valley Water District to complement existing efforts by other local agencies to bring additional value to the community.

In selecting a name for the facility that reflects the rich and longstanding history of the district and represents the vital resource it will be for the community, East Valley Water District looked to the region’s past.

The Sterling Natural Resource Center is named after A.E. Sterling, a local visionary and active valley leader in the late 1800s. He was a longtime resident and property owner in the Inland Empire region and a founding member of the Highland Chamber of Commerce who recognized the importance of building infrastructure to enhance the quality of life for community residents.

A.E. Sterling designed the Redlands Country Club Golf Course, served on the Redlands Street Railway Company, and invested in the Cram-Van Leuven Water Company which eventually merged with North Fork Water Company and is now over 90% owned by East Valley Water District. The facility name also nods to the standards of excellence inherent in the project’s vision. Sterling, by definition, means “of the highest quality.”

The Sterling Natural Resource Center is more than a wastewater treatment facility—it’s a long-lasting investment that East Valley Water District is making to create a new drought-proof water supply for the region and it delivers on the district’s vision to enhance and preserve the quality of life for its community. Beyond water recycling, a core objective of the Sterling Natural Resource Center is to bring area residents together to build a better, more engaged community. Key community benefits will include:

  • Boost for the Local Economy: The project creates 800 temporary construction jobs and injects millions of dollars into the local economy, which will kickstart new, permanent positions in and throughout the community.
  • Community Space: The project’s multipurpose administrative center will be designed to create a space that inspires a sense of community while serving as a resource to residents beyond water recycling. The facility will feature demonstration gardens on California drought-tolerant plants and will include walking paths and picnic areas for the community to enjoy. The center also can be reserved for weddings, community events, and other celebrations—adding a much-needed venue option for the area.
  • Education and Training: Located across the street from Indian Springs High School, the Sterling Natural Resource Center also will provide educational opportunities to local students and residents in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs. By training local students and residents in the unique skill set of wastewater treatment, members of the community could be hired to fill technical positions.
  • Neighborhood Improvements: The Sterling Natural Resource Center will provide much-needed enhancements to the surrounding area in the form of infrastructure improvements for water lines, wastewater lines, street paving, street lighting, and curb, gutter, and sidewalks.

As a public agency, East Valley Water District is committed to protecting its local resources. The Sterling Natural Resource Center will help establish a new population of the endangered Santa Ana sucker fish in the local mountains. It also will create a new riparian habitat within City Creek for the benefit of natural wildlife. The riparian habitat allows for the growth of unique plant material that thrives in the presence of water and serves to slow the flow of water, reducing soil erosion and resulting flood damage.

The Sterling Natural Resource Center will use a series of physical, biological, and chemical treatment processes, including membrane bioreactor (MBR) technology, that has allowed treatment facilities to successfully operate in residential communities, business centers, and even ocean marinas across the world.

MBR technology along with UV disinfection produces water that meets all applicable requirements for groundwater recharge. MBR technology is a vast improvement over traditional wastewater treatment processes and produces water that is 10 times clearer than conventional tertiary wastewater treatment. This technology is also capable of filtering out items as small as microscopic particles and organisms.

Although MBRs have been around for some time, the Sterling Natural Resource Center will incorporate cutting-edge membrane technology that offers a much smaller footprint without compromising performance. Specifically, the design of the facility calls for FibrePlate 2 membrane technology from Fibracast of Hannon, Ontario (ON), Canada.

Additionally, specialized equipment will be used to scrub the air of any unpleasant odors from the treatment process before it leaves the building, allowing the processes to go unnoticed by residents and businesses in the neighborhood.

Over the years, East Valley Water District’s leadership team and board of directors have served as key players in helping the district invest resources to boost the region's water independence and enhance sustainability measures. East Valley Water District has also partnered with other local water agencies to ensure the advancement of new wastewater treatment facilities and projects. This spirit of cooperation opens the door for future collaborations and demonstrates how working together can benefit the community at large.

With the project cost set at $150 million, East Valley Water District was able to secure $126 million in grants and low-interest loans from the California State Water Resources Control Board, and a $1.4 million Urban Greening grant from the California Natural Resources Agency for the Sterling Natural Resource Center. After securing funding, East Valley Water District conducted a thorough selection process to identify best-in-class firms as its design-build partners. A critical component was to identify project partners that understood the spirit behind the Sterling Natural Resource Center, its significance to the community, and overall vision of the facility. During the multi-step interview process, Balfour Beatty/Arcadis proved to be the most fitting firm through the presentation of innovative proposals, progressive concepts, and a well-rounded team of infrastructure experts.

The Sterling Natural Resource Center project team is comprised of Balfour Beatty (project management), Arcadis US Inc. (design manager/engineer-of-record); Ruhnau Clarke Architects (architect); Trussell Technologies (regulatory/permitting); WSP (offsite pipelines/recharge); and Inframark (operations).

With funding and a world-class team in place, selection of the design-build partner is a milestone that brings the facility one step closer to reality. Following the announcement of the partnership, the Sterling Natural Resource Center broke ground in October 2018, with permitting and construction of the facility anticipated to reach completion in less than three years.

To commemorate the start of construction, East Valley Water District hosted a groundbreaking ceremony at the future site of the Sterling Natural Resource Center. The event united more than 300 local officials and community members to celebrate the state-of-the-art wastewater treatment facility and generated excitement for how the project will transform and enhance the region by providing a sustainable water supply and a host of community benefits.

We are proud to bring to life a project for the region that demonstrates our promise of making every source a resource for our community. From creating a sustainable and local water supply; to providing educational workshops, events, and programs; to empowering East Valley Water District staff to make a positive impact on the lives of those around us; the Sterling Natural Resource Center is truly a community asset. And importantly, the Sterling Natural Resource Center also supports the statewide goal of creating more than 1 million acre-feet of recycled water by 2020 and serves as an example of how a region is working together to prepare for the future.

About the Author

John Mura

John Mura is the general manager and CEO of East Valley Water District.

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