Frequently Asked Questions
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Why does the wastewater have to be treated to drinking water quality if it is just going into Big Bear Lake?
The water in Big Bear Lake is from rainfall and snowmelt and is very high quality. Stringent state and federal regulations require that any new Lake water sources be of similar or better quality to preserve the current condition. For some constituents, the existing water quality in the Lake is even better than drinking water so the recycled water needs to go through multiple treatment processes to meet those high standards.
Why is the additional treatment so expensive?
To meet the stringent water quality requirements, the recycled water must go through multiple treatment processes, including a filtration process called reverse osmosis treatment where water is forced under high pressure through membranes with microscopic holes to remove impurities. See the Treatment page for more information. The reverse osmosis process requires highly specialized equipment and a lot of energy in order to produce such high-quality water, all of which is costly to purchase and operate. The salts and other impurities removed by the reverse osmosis process are concentrated into a brine waste that will be dried - using another highly specialized process - then hauled away, which is an additional cost.
Why is the recycled water going to Stanfield Marsh? Doesn’t that have a clay bottom?
Yes, studies have shown that there is a layer of clay under Stanfield Marsh so the recycled water that goes into the marsh will not provide groundwater recharge, but it does provide many other benefits. Discharging the recycled water to Stanfield Marsh uses a natural system to route the water to Big Bear Lake instead of building a longer pipeline to discharge into the Lake. It has the added benefit of providing a sustainable source of water to Stanfield Marsh, a wildlife and waterfowl preserve, to help reduce the impacts of drought on that ecosystem. Additionally, the marsh ecosystem has the potential to further improve the quality of the recycled water by removing some nutrients from the water.
We pump water out of our aquifers and use it and everything that goes down the drain ends up replenishing Lucerne Valley instead of Big Bear Valley. How long can that last?
BBARWA has a permit that allows all their treated wastewater to be discharged to Lucerne Valley. This permit does not have an expiration date but is reviewed by the regulators at least every 5 years and can be modified at any time to require additional treatment or monitoring. It is anticipated that the regulators will ultimately modify BBARWA’s permit to require a higher level of treatment to continue discharging to Lucerne Valley, but the timing or requirements of such a change is not known at this time.
Were there any studies completed about the effects of reclaimed water on fish and wildlife? How will they be impacted?
To comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) will be prepared for the project in the next phase of work. The EIR/EIS will include an evaluation of any potential impacts that the project could have on fish and wildlife as well as mitigation measures to reduce significant impacts, if any are identified.
The project team will also work closely with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to complete testing and studies needed to demonstrate that the recycled water will not have an adverse effect on the endangered stickleback species in Shay Pond.
Recycled water is used to sustain and enhance sensitive wildlife habitats and ecosystems in many places throughout California and the world. It has been demonstrated to be safe even with less treatment than will be provided by Replenish Big Bear. Replenish Big Bear will use multiple treatment processes to treat the recycled water to a very high level to meet stringent water quality requirements.
How was Sand Canyon chosen as the recharge site? Why isn’t the east side of Big Bear Valley being used for recharge?
In 2016, the Bear Valley Water Sustainability Study evaluated five potential recharge sites, including 3 on the east side of Big Bear Valley, as well as Stanfield Marsh and Sand Canyon. The 2016 study determined that Sand Canyon and Greenspot (in Erwin Lake) are the two best locations for groundwater recharge. However, using all of the water for groundwater recharge at these two sites has a high cost and would provide only potable water supply benefits. In 2018, another option called the Lake Alternative (now known as Replenish Big Bear) was developed to provide more widespread benefits to the Big Bear Valley for about 30% less cost than if all of the water were used for recharge at Greenspot and Sand Canyon.
Replenish Big Bear will discharge up to 80 acre-feet per year of recycled water to Shay Pond to meet flow requirements for an endangered fish habitat. This new source of water will allow BBCCSD to stop pumping out groundwater that is currently discharged to Shay Pond. Instead, that groundwater can be stored in the basin for use by potable customers when needed. This approach achieves groundwater recharge without the need to build and operate recharge ponds.
Replenish Big Bear will send the rest of the recycled water to Stanfield Marsh then Big Bear Lake and use existing and new pipelines to convey up to 380-acre feet per year from the Lake to Sand Canyon for recharge. This approach allows the same recycled water to provide habitat, recreation and recharge benefits while also reducing the cost of the project by using natural systems and existing pipelines to convey the water to the Sand Canyon recharge site. The water recharged at Sand Canyon will later be pumped out and sent to both the east and west sides of the Valley through a series of interconnected pipes, pumps and tanks in the BBLDWP and BBCCSD potable water systems.
How much reclaimed water will return to the east and west sides of the Big Bear Valley?
Currently up to 80 acre-feet per year of potable water is pumped from the aquifer to maintain water levels in Shay Pond, which is located within the east side of Bear Valley. If approved, highly treated reclaimed water will be discharged to Shay Pond in lieu of using potable water. This will preserve potable water for domestic uses.
The remaining 1,920 acre-feet per year will be discharged to Stanfield Marsh then flow into Big Bear Lake. From there, up to 380 acre-feet per year could be extracted from the Lake for ground water recharge in Sand Canyon. The 380 acre-feet per year percolated in Sand Canyon will then be pumped out and one-third (127 acre-feet per year) will be used by BBCCSD and two-thirds (253 acre-feet per year) will be used by BBLDWP. In addition, 120 acre-feet per year could be extracted from the Lake to irrigate the golf course instead of using groundwater, which will preserve more groundwater for potable use.
BBLDWP and BBCCSD have the ability to convey this water to both the east and west sides of the Valley using their existing water systems, which include a series of interconnected pipes, pumps and tanks that connect their many different water sources to their customers. These interconnected water systems are flexible and help the agencies provide reliable water service to all their customers, even if facilities in some areas are out of service. Replenish Big Bear increases water supply reliability by giving both agencies a new source of water through groundwater recharge to add to the flexibility of their operations.
When will Replenish Big Bear be completed? Why is it taking so long?
Extensive coordination with regulators is necessary to ensure the project is designed to meet strict state and federal standards to protect the environment and public health. Because water quality requirements for Big Bear Lake are among the strictest in the state, the regulatory process has been more complex and lengthier than expected and has extended the project schedule. At the most recent regulatory meetings in February and April 2021, the project team received clear feedback from the regulators on the path forward and is ready to take the next steps toward obtaining permits once the project funding mechanisms are established. The project is now expected to be complete by the end of 2025. The project timeline on the About page has been updated with the new dates.
Where was the grant money spent or where has it been allocated to be spent?
In 2019, Replenish Big Bear was awarded a $500,000 grant from California’s Proposition 1 Disadvantaged Community Involvement (DCI) Program, which funded regulatory permitting efforts conducted between February 2019 and January 2021. The permitting process is on the critical path, and this grant provided the resources to complete several technical analyses needed to confirm the required level of treatment and move forward in the permitting process with the Division of Drinking Water (DDW) and the Santa Ana Regional Water Control Board.
On June 1, 2021, BBARWA fully executed a grant agreement with the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority (SAWPA) on behalf of the Replenish Big Bear team for about $4.5 million grant through the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) Proposition 1 Integrated Regional Water Management (IRWM) Implementation Grant Program. This grant will be used to cover costs for project administration, planning, design, environmental documentation, permitting, and construction implementation and can reimburse previous expenses incurred after 2, 2020.
For more updates on potential future funding, please visit the News page.
What can I do to help the project?
There are several current and opportunities for community members to get involved in the project.
Sign up for project updates by subscribing to our mailing list at the bottom of our website.
Attend one of the public meetings posted on the Events page.
Follow the project and partner agencies on social media to stay informed about updates and future events and to share information with your connections.
Visit BBARWA to get a Replenish Big Bear sticker for your car.
What happens to our water if we do not reuse it in the Big Bear Valley?
Currently, our wastewater is treated to the minimum level required for agricultural irrigation, and all our recycled water is piped out of the Big Bear Valley for reuse or disposal in Lucerne Valley. The current level of treatment is not suitable for any of our water needs in the Big Bear Valley and we are essentially losing this vital water resource until investments are made to enable more advanced treatment of this water source for reuse in our community. Replenish Big Bear will recover approximately 650 million gallons of water each year for Big Bear Valley.
How is recycled water produced?
Locally, wastewater leaves homes and businesses through a network of sewer pipes and flows to the Big Bear Area Regional Wastewater Agency Treatment Plant, where it undergoes primary and secondary treatment. After secondary treatment, the water is considered recycled water, but it is only clean enough to be used for a few specific uses, such as irrigating crops that are used to feed livestock.
To enable the recycled water to be used for other purposes like replenishing water levels in the Valley, it must go through several additional advanced treatment processes to produce a more purified water source:
Specialized biological processes and chemical treatment remove most of the organics, nitrogen, and phosphorus from the water.
A filtration process uses either permeable membranes or granular media to remove suspended solids and bacteria from the treated water as it passes through the filter.
Water is forced under high pressure through reverse osmosis membranes to remove impurities including salts, bacteria, viruses, pharmaceuticals, and personal care products.
High-intensity UV light disinfects the water by deactivating any bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms so they are rendered harmless.
Replenish Big Bear will distribute recycled water to several locations in Big Bear Valley through a system of purple pipes, which are separate from the drinking water system.
To learn more, go to: https://watereuse.org/educate/water-reuse-101/videos/how-reuse-works/
Are there any other options for new water supplies?
Big Bear Valley’s remote location limits access to new water resources. Our only source of water enters as precipitation, then flows into the lake or soaks into the ground to become groundwater. Capturing this water after it is used and producing high quality, advanced treated recycled water is the only reliable, cost-effective source for additional water supplies.
Many southern California communities rely on imported water from northern California through the State Water Project as a supplemental supply. However, imported water is not readily available in Big Bear due to the Valley’s high elevation and isolated location. The nearest imported water pipeline is in the Lucerne Valley and the water would have to be pumped nearly 4,000 feet vertically up to Big Bear. Previous evaluations showed that the cost of obtaining imported water would be approximately 2.5 times higher than the cost of producing recycled water through Replenish Big Bear. Also, imported water is not a local, reliable, drought-proof supply and supplies can be greatly reduced in times of drought when we need water most.
Will Replenish Big Bear fill the lake?
Big Bear Lake has seen extremely low levels in the last 15 years and was only 40 percent full as of November 2018. Based on historical levels and rainfall trends, water levels may drop further in the future. Low lake levels limit access for recreation and the local ecosystem struggles to adapt to fluctuating levels.
Replenish Big Bear will provide a consistent new source of supply to the lake to keep levels higher and more stable than they would be without the project. According to preliminary estimates, Replenish Big Bear would increase lake levels up to 5 feet in dry years, and keep water levels more consistent over time.
Once Replenish Big Bear is implemented, the goal will be to keep the lake within 3 to 5 feet of full, but lake levels will still vary depending on rainfall.
What is gray water? Will gray water be put in the lake?
Gray water is used but relatively clean water from your bathroom sinks, showers, tubs, and washing machines that does not contact human waste. Gray water may contain traces of dirt, food, grease, hair, and household cleaning products. Gray water can be diverted from the sewer and retained on private property for reuse; most homeowners use gray water as a source of irrigation water and treatment may not be required for that use. Check with your local permitting agency for more information on acceptable uses and requirements for gray water systems.
Gray water will not be put in the lake. Any gray water that is not retained on private property for reuse is discharged to the sewer network and flows to the BBARWA treatment plant, where it undergoes multiple treatment processes. Replenish Big Bear will add several additional treatment processes to produce clean, high quality water before it is discharged to the lake.
Will the water released into the lake contain pharmaceuticals?
Replenish Big Bear will add multiple advanced treatment processes that remove impurities, including some pharmaceuticals and personal care products; however, the water may still contain very low concentrations of some pharmaceuticals and personal care products (also known as Emerging Constituents). Monitoring and response requirements for Emerging Constituents in recycled water are in place and are routinely updated by regulators as new scientific information becomes available.
Many other recycled water sources in the Santa Ana River Watershed have previously been tested for several Emerging Constituents and, although these compounds were detected in many of the tests, the concentrations were extremely low and fell within the range where other studies have shown that no adverse health effects would be expected.
Replenish Big Bear will work closely with regulators to identify specific monitoring requirements for pharmaceuticals and other Emerging Constituents for this project to protect public health and the environment.
What is recycled water?
Water reuse, also known as water recycling, is the process of intentionally capturing wastewater, stormwater, saltwater, or gray water and cleaning it as needed for a designated beneficial freshwater use such as surface or groundwater replenishment, watershed restoration, drinking, and irrigation. We refer to this new water resource as recycled water. Today’s advanced water treatment technology allows communities to produce recycled water more pure than bottled water that exceeds stringent state and federal water quality standards.
Water reuse is essential to ensuring our communities have sustainable water supplies now and into the future. All the water that has ever existed on Earth is still here today, constantly being recycled by nature as it circulates between the atmosphere and Earth.