With California dealing with a severe drought — the early months of 2022 were the driest in the state’s history — officials have been searching for sustainable, drought-proof solutions to the ongoing water crisis, which experts say could last for years to come.
Which is why Gov. Gavin Newsom stopped by Carson on Tuesday afternoon, May 17. Newsom visited the Joint Water Pollution Control Plant, which the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California operates, to discuss the state’s efforts to address the crisis — namely, a proposed $3.4 billion water recycling facility that would produce up to 150 million gallons daily if completed.
Newsom’s visit, he said, was meant to help publicize the project so MWD can secure the needed funding to develop the facility. He also reiterated his pledge to spend $100 million on a statewide outreach campaign to encourage water conservation.
“There has never been a project like it in United States history,” Newsom said during the visit. “This is a profoundly important project for the state’s future.”
More than 37 million people statewide — out of an estimated 39 million — currently live in an area impacted by moderate-to-exceptional drought conditions, according to a recent report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“Scientists have framed the challenge along these lines: Since (the year 800), we have never experienced in the West Coast of the United States consecutive dry years like we have now,” Newsom said. “We’re experiencing things we have never experienced — and this isn’t unique to California. We have to do things differently.”
The proposed Regional Recycled Water Advanced Purification Center, a joint effort between the Metropolitan Water District and the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts, would use new technology to recycle wastewater — even making it potable.
Wastewater is currently treated and dumped into the ocean.
“Up until 10 years ago or so, it was too salty for recycling,” Robert Ferrante, general manager of the LA Sanitation Districts, said about the project during a presentation to the Carson City Council in mid-March. “But now, because of the technology that exists, we can recover that water.”
That technology, dubbed “advanced purification,” uses membrane bioreactors and microorganisms to filter out toxins from the wastewater, according to the MWD. Then, the water is treated through a reverse osmosis process that removes 99% of all impurities, including salt.
The water is treated a third-and-final time with an advanced oxidation process — during which a powerful ultraviolet light removes any remaining viruses or trace chemical compounds.
“The facility uses both tried and tested water treatment technologies employed across the world for decades,” MWD says, “and innovative processes to remove contaminants such as pharmaceuticals, pesticides, viruses, bacteria, and potentially harmful chemicals down to the microscopic level, leaving only clean water.”
A pilot version of the process is on display — on a much smaller scale — at MWD’s Carson plant. The goal with this new project, officials said, is to scale up that facility and eventually replicate it throughout the state.
Officials envision the initial proposed facility going in Carson, Ferrante said during the March City Council meeting.
If completed, the project would provide a “drought-proof” supply of water that would be used to replenish groundwater basins and create a local supply of drinking water, MWD officials have said. Currently, most of the state’s water supplies come from the Colorado River and the Sierra Nevada snowpack.
The project would also fuel economic growth, MWD officials say, by stimulating billions of dollars in economic output during the construction and operation of the facility.
Construction alone would generate $8.68 billion in total economic output and more than 47,100 jobs, the agency said. Once completed, the facility would provide $88 million in labor income, 1,040 jobs and $25.9 million in state and local taxes annually.
But the project still needs funding — and a lot of it. The estimated construction costs sit at $3.4 billion, with a projected annual operating cost of $129 million.
Newsom said the reason for his visit to the plant was to highlight this new project in hopes of securing funding for it — noting that representatives of MWD and LASAN “have been making the case for this project in Sacramento over and over and over again.”
California’s Water Resilience Portfolio contains 142 specific actions to address the water crisis, for which his office has dedicated $7.2 billion in general fund surplus money, so long as the state Legislature approves this year’s budget.
But it doesn’t appear that Newsom’s office has set aside any funds specifically for the Advanced Water Purification Project — at least, not yet.
As it stands, the project is currently undergoing an environmental planning process that’s expected to last until 2024. The facility should be up-and-running by 2027 or 2028, Newsom said, with full-scale operations beginning sometime around 2030 to 2032.