Landmark water reclamation project approved for Orange County

Orange County water and wastewater officials approved the first phase of a $600 million project that will produce up to 140,000 acre-feet of near-distilled water through membrane purification from highly treated sewer water.

FOUNTAIN VALLEY, Calif., April 3, 2001 — Orange County water and wastewater officials Wednesday night approved the first phase of a $600 million project that will produce up to 140,000 acre-feet of near-distilled water through membrane purification from highly treated sewer water.

The Groundwater Replenishment System, which is scheduled to be online in 2005, will produce water for replenishment of Orange County's large groundwater basin, helping to make the area less dependent on water from Northern California and the Colorado River.

The Orange County Water District and the Orange County Sanitation District are partners in this joint venture, which was approved overwhelmingly by both boards of directors. The first phase of the project will cost $352 million and will help the county meet the future water demands of a rapidly growing region.

"I applaud Metropolitan Water District of Southern California for its many efforts to provide future water reliability for Southern California in the face of cutbacks in the Colorado River and threats to water from Northern California," said Irv Pickler, chair of the Joint Cooperative Committee of the Groundwater Replenishment System. "We want to complement those water reliability efforts in Orange County with this project."

The Groundwater Replenishment System will take highly treated sewer water and, through microfiltration, reverse osmosis and ultraviolet disinfection, produce near distilled-quality water. The water will then be pumped via a 13-mile pipeline to spreading basins where it will blend with Orange County's other sources of water from Northern California, the Colorado River and the Santa Ana River.

"The Groundwater Replenishment System provides us with the water diversity we will need should any one of our current sources be reduced," said Pickler. "The GWR System also helps 'drought-proof' Orange County, which is critical for a semi-arid region like Southern California."

Phase One of the Groundwater Replenishment System will produce 70,000 acre-feet of water per year, enough to satisfy the annual water needs of 140,000 families. Orange County is expected to grow by nearly 600,000 people by 2020, bringing the districts' service area to 2.8 million, who will require an additional 180,000 acre-feet of water per year. Without the Groundwater Replenishment System, the county would need to purchase more — and more expensive — imported water.

The water will be so pure that it will reverse a growing mineral content problem in the basin caused by filling the groundwater basin with Colorado River water.

As an added benefit, producing water through the GWR System requires half of the energy it takes to pump water to Orange County from Northern California. Phase One of the project will save about 140 million kilowatt hours each year, enough electricity to serve more than 21,000 homes.

Orange County Water District is a special agency that was created by the California State Legislature in 1933 to maintain and manage the groundwater basin under northern and central Orange County. OCWD's groundwater basin supplies 75% of the water needs in Anaheim, Buena Park, Costa Mesa, Cypress, Fountain Valley, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Irvine, La Palma, Los Alamitos, Newport Beach, Orange, Placentia, Santa Ana, Seal Beach, Stanton, Tustin, Villa Park, Westminster, and Yorba Linda.

Orange County Sanitation District is the largest wastewater treatment system west of the Mississippi River, serving 2.2 million residents in northern and central Orange County.

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