Newport Beach receives updates on groundwater replenishment system

A trickling filter clarifier.
A trickling filter clarifier at the Orange County Sanitation District in Fountain Valley.
(File Photo)

The Newport Beach City Council received a presentation on the groundwater replenishment system on Tuesday at the behest of Councilman Brad Avery, who sits on the board representing the city for the Orange County Sanitation District.

The district oversees service to roughly 2.6 million residents and serves about 20 of the 34 cities throughout Orange County. Orange County Sanitation District general manager Rob Thompson noted eight pump stations within Newport Beach are operated by the sanitation district.

“We take our jobs as environmental stewards very seriously,” Thompson told the council.

Thompson explained that local sewer service providers collect wastewater and deliver it to the district, which then distributes it to one of two treatment plants. All of Newport’s wastewater is sent to the Huntington Beach plant on Brookhurst Street.

“We then treat that water and either discharge it to the ocean, which is the way it used to be, or if there is excess flow, now we can actually deliver that water, after our final expansion, to the groundwater replenishment system,” Thompson said. “We are in a position of recycling 100% of our recyclable water, so it’s a great accomplishment. I think we’re the first system of our kind in the world.”

The system’s been online since 2008 and was expanded in May 2015. It will expand again this year, pushing the replenishment system’s upper limits to 130 million gallons of water daily, according to Stephen Sheldon, who represents District 5 on the Orange County Water District, which includes parts of Irvine, Newport Beach and Tustin.

“The final expansion serves over one million people here in Orange County. It’s very important that we become more and more independent from the imported water from Northern California because that water is more expensive and by and large unreliable,” Sheldon said. “These efforts that we’ve had that Newport Beach residents can be proud of is that 100% of their wastewater is recycled.”

About 23% of the city’s drinking water comes from the Colorado River, while the remaining 77% is renewable groundwater. With the this year’s expansion, use of renewable groundwater is expected to grow to 85%, and reliance on the Colorado River drop to 15%, according to Newport Beach Utilities Director Mark Vukojevic.

Vukojevic said about 30 years ago the city’s drinkable water was almost entirely reliant on the Colorado River and Northern California.

“We take it for granted, right? It comes out the tap. That’s very understandable. But also [on] the health side of it, I just know ... these huge infrastructure projects and repairs, and they’re big numbers, but that’s what it takes,” Avery said. “O.C. [Sanitation] is looking forward 20 years with these capital projects because we can’t afford to have breaks, and particularly in Newport Beach, where we’re so close to the coast.”

“Protecting the environment off our coast is so important to all of us, so there’s so many moving parts here,” he added. “... We’re really lucky to have these agencies because if your water isn’t good, you’ve got a real problem.”

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