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WHO: Inland Empire Utilities Agency, San Bernardino County, Calif.
OPERATIONS: Four tertiary wastewater plants with a combined 93,500-acre-foot capacity; one 28,000-acre-foot desalination plant
SERVES: 850,000 residents
PROJECT: Recycled water distribution system
GOAL: Increase annual recycled water use from 15,000 to 50,000 acre-feet by 2012
COST: $140 million
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THE LATEST: Inland Empire Utilities Agency (IEUA) is a wholesale supplier and part of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. For a decade, managers have steadily implemented a $350-million plan to get entirely off the grid by 2020.

Recycling is a major component of the plan. Not only is the utility's plan to reuse 85% — or 50,000 acre-feet — of the water it recycles by 2012 on track, it's also under budget.

Reusing water boosts local supplies and decreases the amount of energy — roughly 7,500 kilowatts/hour for every 1 million gallons — needed to import it. The utility has imported 60,000 to 75,000 acre-feet of water annually, though this has decreased during the recent drought because of greater reuse and consumer conservation.

The utility's recycled water is used to irrigate parks, schools, and golf courses, where it filters through the soil and carefully monitored wells to ensure it meets California Department of Public Health standards before it replenishes groundwater supplies. After using recycled water to run power plants, commercial laundries, and paperboard factories, customers protect recycled water supplies by discharging the high-saline wastewater to separate pipelines that convey it to coastal treatment plants and discharged to the ocean.

Originally, the $200-million capital improvement project was to be funded through bonds, local property taxes, connection fees, and user charges. In 2009, however, it qualified for $14 million in federal stimulus grants through the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Low-interest loans through California's Clean Water State Revolving Fund are financing the remaining balance.

The recession has also helped control costs. Because of lower-than-average construction bids and value engineering, the project is expected to come in $60 million under budget. This benefits the utility, and returns money to the state's revolving fund.

The best part: project scope was reduced without affecting goals. Instead of building new storage for nearly 40 million gallons a day, the utility will store recycled water in an unused, 3-million-gallon reservoir bought from the Cucamonga Valley Water District. Existing pipelines near customers account for 10 of the project's required 75 miles of pipeline.

These measures, and the lower construction costs, says General Manager Thomas Love, should allow the utility to lower rates 10% to 20% even if the region's population grows.

Love's advice for colleagues who're considering a similar effort: Start planning as early as possible.

“If at all possible, include recycled water in the infrastructure from the beginning,” he says. “It's much easier and cheaper than adding it after the fact.”

He and his team began work in 2001. Their awareness campaign has included public workshops and hearings before health department approval, newspaper editorials, and communicating with residents in construction areas.

Love recommends the WateReuse Association (www.watereuse.org) for information on funding, planning, and research.