Frequently Asked Questions
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What is the total cost of the Program and what elements of the Project does it cover?
The current cost estimate of the Program is approximately $75 million in 2025 dollars. These costs cover construction at the Big Bear Area Regional Wastewater Agency’s (BBARWA) wastewater treatment plant for the advanced purification treatment processes and the pipeline to convey the purified water to Stanfield Marsh. These costs do not include the construction of the pipeline to Sand Canyon for the groundwater recharge element of Replenish Big Bear. BBARWA can only be responsible for costs associated with the treatment and disposal of wastewater. The City of Big Bear Lake Department of Water and Power and the Big Bear City Community Services District will fund the Sand Canyon element of the Program separately.
What are the costs to each ratepayer?
The Big Bear Area Regional Wastewater Agency adopted a five-year sewer user charge schedule that includes the Program at its March 22, 2023 Governing Board Meeting (see the question above for elements of the Program that these rates will apply to). These are the expected maximum yearly rates for wastewater treatment and disposal services provided by BBARWA, including current treatment and Replenish Big Bear. BBARWA’s Governing Board must reaffirm these rates annually during its budget process. There are additional sewer rates from your sewer agency that cover the cost of operating and maintaining the sewer collection system that conveys the wastewater to BBARWA for treatment (Big Bear City Community Services District, the City of Big Bear Lake, or the County of San Bernardino Service Area 53B).
Will these rates be decreased if there are additional grants or Program beneficiary contributions?
Yes! We are applying for additional state and federal grants and are working with Program beneficiaries for contributions towards the Program. BBARWA will reduce rates if possible.
What happens if the Program is not constructed?
Even if the Replenish Big Bear Program is not constructed, regulations are continuously evolving and becoming more stringent so we expect that future wastewater disposal regulations will force BBARWA to construct new treatment and disposal facilities to meet those requirements. Regulatory agencies have indicated that we should expect additional treatment requirements for the current wastewater disposal process in Lucerne Valley. A project like this could cost approximately $30,000,000 without any added benefit to the Big Bear Valley.
When will Replenish Big Bear be completed? Why is it taking so long?
Extensive coordination with regulators is necessary to ensure the Program 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. The Program Team received clear feedback from the regulators on the path forward and is ready to take the next steps toward obtaining permits once the Program funding mechanisms are established. The Program timeline on the About page has been updated with the new dates.
What can I do to help the Program?
There are several current and opportunities for community members to get involved in the Program.
Sign up for 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 Program 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 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.
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.
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 800 million gallons of water each year for Big Bear Valley.
What water is currently sent to Lucerne Valley?
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), a Program Environmental Impact Report (PEIR) and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) will be prepared for the Program in the next phase of work. The PEIR/EIS will include an evaluation of any potential impacts that the Program could have on fish and wildlife as well as mitigation measures to reduce significant impacts, if any are identified.
The Program 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 (future option).
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.
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.
Is the system the one the public toured at the Open House the Replenish Big Bear facility? Are we already discharging to the Lake?
The facility that was toured during the July 19, 2023, Replenish Big Bear Open House is the pilot facility, which is a small-scale version of the facility that will be constructed. The purpose of the pilot facility is to ensure that the treatment processes can meet regulatory requirements. This information will be used in the final design of the advanced water purification facility (AWPF). Startup of the new AWPF is anticipated in early 2027. The Program timeline can be found on the About page. The treated water from the pilot system is being returned to the beginning of the existing plant and conveyed through the existing treatment process, as BBARWA is not yet permitted to discharge it to the Lake.
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.
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 Program. 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.
Will we be adding enough water to offset lake evaporation?
Annual average evaporation, reported by the Big Bear Municipal Water District (BBMWD) is approximately 10,600 acre feet (https://www.bbmwd.com/current-lake-stats). The Replenish Big Bear discharge to Stanfield Marsh/Big Bear Lake will add about 2,200 acre feet per year (AFY). There isn’t enough purified water available to fully offset evaporation, but this new water supply will help.
How was Sand Canyon chosen as the recharge site?
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 send 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 overall cost of the Program 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.
Where will the new facility be built?
The new facility will be constructed within the existing treatment plant footprint where decommissioned equalization basins will be repurposed for new facility construction.
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.
What are some examples of endocrine disruptors (which are removed by the UV-AOP process)?
Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDC) are substances that interfere with the body’s endocrine system, which is responsible for producing, storing and secreting hormones. EDC examples include heavy metals such as lead and cadmium and carbon compounds such as BPA, phthalates, and glyphosate. Products that can contain EDCs include pesticides, plastics, industrial solvents, personal care products, non-stick food wrappers and flame retardants. The proposed Replenish Big Bear advanced treatment process has proven efficacy and reliability for the destruction and removal of EDCs to non-detect levels.
How big is the pilot system in relation to the full scale system (in footprint and flow)?
The pilot facility is about 5% of the full-scale system footprint and less than 1% of the full-scale system design flow.
What is the energy consumption and cost per MG treated?
Energy consumption to produce purified water is estimated to be approximately 15 megawatts hour (MWh) per day. The energy cost per million gallons (MG) treated is $970.
What is total annual energy consumption?
The total estimated power consumption for the Replenish Big Bear Program at the BBARWA site is approximately 5,500 MWh per year. BBARWA’s current solar production is approximately 3,000 MWh per year and will be expanded to approximately 6,700 MWh per year. BBARWA’s current solar use and production is detailed in the monthly General Manager’s Report. You can view the latest data by going to the most current meeting agenda packet.
What are those domes at the existing treatment plant site?
The existing dome facilities are the clarifiers that provide separation of treated effluent and solids as a secondary treatment step in the existing treatment system The dome structure provides protection for the clarifiers from the cold weather climate.