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Planned purification plant would eliminate need for imported water, officials say

As the worst drought in California history threatens to enter a fifth straight year, officials are advocating a variety of water reuse projects they say will reduce Southern California's unquenchable thirst for imported water.

On Tuesday, officials at the Water Replenishment District of Southern California unveiled drawings for the latest such proposal: A $95-million water purification plant they said would make the district entirely self-reliant on local water.

"Not only are we helping to become independent from imported water, we're also helping states in the southwest region by using less water that comes from the Colorado River," district President Sergio Calderon said.

Funding for the facility has yet to be finalized, but officials insisted construction would begin in the spring of 2016 at a Pico Rivera industrial site that was purchased this year for $10 million.

Officials said funding for the treatment plant could come from at least two sources: A $7.5-billion state water bond passed by California voters last year, as well as locally issued bonds.

The water treatment facility, which is the key component of the district's Groundwater Reliability Improvement Program, would be completed in 2018, they said. It would take water from a nearby sewage treatment facility and, using advanced procedures such as reverse osmosis, purify that water to meet or exceed drinking water standards.

The replenishment district manages two enormous underground aquifers -- the Central and West Coast Groundwater Basins -- that provide water to roughly 40% of the population of southern Los Angeles County.

The district is charged with ensuring that the aquifers don't run dry from overuse. In order to accomplish this, the district recharges the aquifers with a mix of treated sewage water from the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County, imported water purchased through the Metropolitan Water District and State Water Project, and storm-water runoff.

The water is deposited in enormous man-made ponds, or spreading grounds, where it then percolates through soil and replenishes the aquifer.

Currently, regulations cap the amount of treated sewage water the district can use for aquifer replenishment, so it relies on storm-water runoff and roughly 21,000 acre-feet of imported water each year to service the aquifers.  

By using the plant to purify locally treated sewage water, the district would no longer need to purchase imported water from the Colorado River or the California Delta. It would use the purified water instead.

"This allows us to step in for mother nature in a way," said Robb Whitaker, general manager of the replenishment district.

Officials argue that it's also cheaper.

Currently, an acre-foot of imported water costs more than $1,000. However, treated sewage water can be purchased for less than $200 an acre-foot. (An acre-foot is enough water to supply two households for one year.)

In addition to purifying water, the facility will include an outdoor amphitheater for community events, indoor community meeting facilities, a large patio, public access across the property to connect with an existing bike path and walking path along the San Gabriel River, and educational exhibits on water recycling.

Twitter: @montemorin

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