Last Thursday, the Water Replenishment District of Southern California (WRD) celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first time the agency used recycled water to recharge the region’s underground aquifer. The celebration was part of WRD’s annual State of the District presentation, and the agency invited administrators of water departments of the region to the party held at WRD headquarters, 4040 Paramount Blvd., in Lakewood. California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom was the keynote speaker at the event, attended by about 300 people, including several elected local and state officials.
Albert Robles, president of the WRD Board of Directors, spoke before Newsom took the stage. “When the concept of using recycled water was first floated more than a half-century ago, very few people realized the long-term benefit it would have on securing a safe and reliable groundwater supply for this region that is challenged by limited annual rainfall,” Robles told the audience. “Indeed it was a breakthrough for the future of groundwater sustainability around the world.”
Robles explained that WRD was a pioneer in the use of recycled water for groundwater recharge– a practice now emulated by water agencies throughout the world. “WRD, however, is not content with accomplishments of the past and is chartering a course aimed at creating regional water independence that eliminated the need for expensive imported water,” he said. “As California’s water demands increase, WRD is stepping up efforts to do its part to meet the water needs of the 4 million residents in 43 cities within the boundaries of its 420-square-mile jurisdiction– the most densely populated region of the state.”
Robles also gave a list of WRD’s accomplishments during the past year. He noted that WRD was created by a vote of the people 53 years ago. “Our charge was to protect the treasure beneath our feet from catastrophic collapse due to the overpumping of groundwater,” he said. “Our mandate is to make up the difference, which historically has been made up by buying water from northern California and the Colorado River.”
He noted that WRD accounts for 40 percent of the water demand in the area. “Historically, WRD’s reliance on imported water was among the highest in the state, but 50 years ago in partnership with the Los Angeles County Sanitation District (LACSD) and the Los Angeles County Flood Control District, WRD pioneered the use of recycled water for groundwater recharge,” Robles said. “Over the next five decades, WRD worked hard to increase the use of local water resources, including capturing more storm water and using more recycled water. This has resulted in our reduced reliance on imported water by almost 50 percent compared to 50 years ago.”
Robles also noted that in the past 12 months WRD has made much progress in its Water Independence Now (WIN) program, which the agency initiated in 2006. Robles said the goal of the program is to make WRD 100-percent independent of imported water. “On Monday of this week, with our partner, the West Basin Municipal Water District, we celebrated the expansion of the Ed T. Little Advanced Treatment Plant in El Segundo,” he said. “That expansion will make our largest seawater barrier system the first in the world to be 100-percent dependent on recycled water.”
Robles also explained that the WRD Board of Directors recently approved the construction contract expansion of the Leo J. Vander Lans Advanced Treatment Plant in Long Beach. “That expansion will make the Alamitos Barrier the second seawater barrier system in the world to be 100-percent dependent on recycled water,” he said, adding that WRD is currently negotiating with the City of Los Angeles to make the seawater barrier system located near Wilmington Harbor fully dependent on recycled water.
Robles then handed the microphone to Newsom, who began by praising WRD for its successful efforts, over more than five decades, to maintain the groundwater supply. “Thank you for your example and your devotion to this extraordinary cause and vision that goes back to a time when California was in the future business,” he said. “In 1962, when you got in the business of the recycling in the replenishment strategy, we were in the future business. That was at a time when our state was the tent pole for the American economy.” He explained that in the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, there was no other state that grew jobs at the rate new jobs were created in California, but nowadays California is no longer a leader in job growth compared to other states.
Newsom said the rest of the state would do good to follow the example set by WRD, which has developed innovative ways to improve and expand its services at a time when most organizations in the public as well as the private sector are shrinking. He added that, since the 1960s, the state government has not adequately improved and expanded its water-delivery systems to keep pace with the rapid growth in population.
The Lt. Governor stressed that solving problems on a local level, as WRD has done for more than 50 years, seems to be the best way to get things done. “When Albert (Robles) makes the point, ‘We are going to get off importation,’ I get excited,” he said. Newsom told the audience that the notion of local empowerment, regionalism, and the “remarkable capacity of people, regardless of their political parties, working together to bridge regional rivalries,” need to become the way Californians accomplish their goals. He added that WRD models all those things. “You are on the leading and cutting edge of technology and ideas. You’re not dreamers, you’re doers,” he said. You’re an example for the rest of us.”
State Assembly Whip Roger Hernandez echoed Newsom’s comments. “You see a lot of communities doing things the old way, as the Lt. Governor pointed out, and then you see some communities and their governance teams trail-blazing,” he said. “WRD is definitely setting the tone for California.”
Wade Miller, national executive director of the WateReuse Association, based in Alexandria, Virginia, also made brief comments praising WRD and LACSD for their partnership in using recycled water for to replenish groundwater supplies. Miller stressed that he hopes more local agencies would recycle water. “I’ve learned recently that one billion gallons of water per day is discharged into the ocean between Santa Monica and San Diego,” he said. “Think of the possibilities of utilizing that water instead of discharging it into the ocean. Water is just too valuable to be used only once.”
During the event, WRD also received the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold Certification for its headquarters building, making WRD one of the very few water agencies in the state to receive that level of green building recognition.
“It is an honor and a privilege to present the Gold LEED Plaque to this wonderful organization,” said Jorge Partida, executive director of the US Green Building Council. “To recognize this organization which is taking care of water is a highlight of my career.”