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Orange County and LA County primarily get their water from two sources, import and groundwater. The imported water comes from the Northern California State Water Project and the Colorado River. The groundwater comes from large aquifers located under each county.

The Water Replenishment District (WRD) is a regional groundwater management agency for nearly four million residents in 43 cities, covering 420 square miles in Southern LA County. The WRD service area water usage is about 550,000 acre-feet per year. Groundwater supplies about 250,000 acre-feet or about 40% of the total demand for water. For reference, a single acre-foot contains 325,000 gallons of water.

Southern California saw a significant population growth spurt after World War II. At that time, high quality groundwater was abundant and its usage was unregulated. Usage grew quickly and soon more than twice the amount of groundwater was being used than could be naturally replenished. Throughout the LA basin, wells were running dry and seawater was flowing into the aquifers contaminating the remaining fresh water.

In 1959 the WRD was created and became responsible for maintaining the water quality of the groundwater within their service area. The primary way this is done is by pumping water, mostly imported water, back into the ground. This replenishment process is known as “recharging” and prevents the aquifer water table from falling below sea level and thereby thwarts the flow of ocean water into the aquifer.

Increasing the supply of water can only be achieved in one of four ways: increase the amount of reuse/recycling, increase water storage, conserve more water or create a new source. Concentrating on the first three options, the WRD more than a decade ago developed a Water Independence Now (WIN) strategy to reduce, and someday eliminate, the need to import water from Northern California sources

Importing water over hundreds of miles is expensive. The focus of the WIN strategy is on sustainable projects and programs that together, are designed to fully utilize regional stormwater and recycled water sources. Both of these water sources are used to restore the groundwater basins/aquifers of the Central and West Coast basins, while increasing the ability to deliver water to the Montebello Forebay Spreading Basins (runoff reservoirs).

These spreading basins are actually leaky lakes. They are constructed in geologically suitable areas where surface water can soak down into the subsurface and naturally recharge the aquifer. Replenishing the groundwater this way will make south LA County less vulnerable to the impact from droughts.

One of the cornerstone projects of WIN, is the Groundwater Reliability Improvement Project (GRIP). The focus of GRIP is to evaluate all practical alternatives for either replacing or offsetting the need to use imported water to recharge and replenish the aquifers.

In November 2015, as part of GRIP, the WRD showcased the architectural design for a new advanced water treatment facility project on five acres in the city of Pico Rivera. The city of Pico Rivera is situated approximately 11 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles, on the eastern edge of the Los Angeles basin.

Construction of the Pico Rivera water treatment facility is expected to take about two years, with the facility going online during the last half of 2018. Once completed, the advanced water treatment facility will provide 3.26 billion gallons of recycled water per year. This is enough water to replenish the groundwater basins/aquifers, eliminate the need to import water and drought proof the WRD service area.

Another GRIP project that is near completion is the installation of turnout structures along the San Gabriel River in the city of Pico Rivera. These fortified concrete bypasses operate like enormous spigots and connect to the LA County Sanitation Districts recycled water delivery pipeline. The bypasses will feed water into the Pico Rivera advanced water treatment facility.

Commenting on the advanced water treatment facility California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, whose district (63rd) is in the WRD service area said “This project builds on this idea that we can tap into our local water supply and rethink how we can bring water to our communities.” Rendon added “Developing programs like GRIP allow our communities and our state to become more water independent.”

For WRD and all water management agencies being innovative, finding new ways to come to grips with the reality of long-term droughts is both necessary and commendable.

Ian’s weekly column covers regional, state and national issues. His 40 year media career, includes 20 years as Publisher & CEO of various media companies. He welcomes comments from readers, and can be reached at