Diverting recycled water could save Burbank thousands of dollars

Each year, Burbank releases more than 2 billion gallons of unused recycled water into the Los Angeles River, but a plan to divert some of that for use elsewhere could save the city thousands of dollars on the cost of importing potable water.

Under the proposed deal, the Burbank Water Reclamation Plant would redirect 110 million gallons of recycled water to North Hollywood each year, earning the utility credits that would be applied to the cost of importing potable water from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. Those credits would effectively save the city about $180,000 annually.

Burbank Mayor Emily Gabel-Luddy said reducing the city’s reliance on increasingly expensive imported water “makes this deal with L.A. even more important, because we get back — at no cost — water supply we can use for residents and businesses.”

Customers were hit with a 4.75% water rate increase last week to defray a 5% wholesale rate hike by Metropolitan, which provides most of Burbank’s drinking water. The agency is planning to raise rates again early next year.

The savings derived from exporting the recycled water “doesn’t mean water rates wouldn’t go up [in the future], but it means they wouldn’t go up as much, because it would reduce our costs,” Burbank Water and Power Assistant General Manager Bill Mace said.

The proposal is possible because Burbank Water and Power produces far more recycled water — 3.25 billion gallons — than it can use. Last year, Burbank used 620 million gallons for landscape irrigation, cooling city power generators and fighting fires, according to city records.

Recycled water is treated wastewater that can’t be used for potable purposes, such as drinking, so it requires a separate network of pipes.

Since 2009, Burbank has installed roughly 100,000 feet of pipe to carry recycled water to parks, schools, movie studios and other large parcels with significant irrigation needs, Burbank Water and Power civil engineer Matt Elsner said.

Though it isn’t economically feasible to hook most residential customers into the recycled water system, Elsner said the utility plans to eventually increase recycled water use in the city to as much as a billion gallons each year by hooking more large parcels into existing pipelines.

But even if all irrigation in Burbank were accomplished with recycled water, the city would still be producing more than it could use, Elsner said.

Burbank City Council members unanimously approved the deal last Tuesday night, leaving it up to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which is scheduled to vote on the proposal next month.

As part of the agreement, Los Angeles water officials would reimburse Burbank up to $4.5 million for construction of new pipes in L.A., work that Mace said would take up to two years to complete.

-- Joe Piasecki, joe.piasecki@latimes.com

Follow on Twitter: @JoePiasecki.

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