How Replenish Big Bear creates a new clean water resource

Recovering our lost water

Recycled water is an underutilized resource with an abundance of untapped potential! Sometimes referred to as water reuse, recycled water is a local and consistent supply that supplements existing water supplies even during dry years and offers a reliable water source to communities.


Millions of gallons of water leave the valley each year as wastewater. Replenish Big Bear captures this lost water source, treats it using proven advanced water treatment methods, and returns clean, recycled water back to our environment— providing Big Bear with a sustainable water supply.

Why use recycled water?
Did you know?

Each day



For more than

1 billion gallons

of treated wastewater is recycled in the United States


of the water that goes down a home's drain has the potential to be reused


100 years

of Earth's water is fresh water

California has been reusing and recycling water


A proven water treatment process

Several additional treatment steps to Big Bear’s existing treatment process will use proven technology to achieve safe, high quality water that exceeds drinking water quality standards.

Proposed infrastructure upgrades

Federal and state funding is being pursued to make the necessary improvements to provide Big Bear Valley with a reliable, high quality water source. Proposed infrastructure improvements include:


Frequently asked questions

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.

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 more than 600 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: 


Nutrient Removal

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.


Reverse Osmosis

Water is forced under high pressure through reverse osmosis membranes to remove impurities including salts, bacteria, viruses, pharmaceuticals, and personal care products.


UV Disinfection

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:

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.

When will Replenish Big Bear be completed?

The project is planned to be completed and operating by 2022. Coordination with regulatory agencies to determine treatment requirements for the water and obtain the permits is the most critical task and will impact the project’s overall schedule—this is the focus of current project efforts. Potential funding options are being evaluated and the environmental assessment efforts are underway to obtain all required approvals and permits. In 2019, the engineering team will begin preliminary design of the project’s new pipelines, pump station, and treatment plant upgrades, and in 2020, a pilot treatment facility will be constructed and operated to confirm that the proposed treatment processes deliver the required water quality to be released into the lake. Final design is planned in 2021 and construction and startup in 2022.   

"Together, we will keep a valuable water resource in the Valley. The benefits of the project will support recreation so our tourism economy can continue to thrive, improve the habitat for our area's fish and wildlife, and protect our essential water supplies for years to come."

- David Lawrence, BBARWA General Manager

Working today to secure water for a thriving Big Bear Valley tomorrow.
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Partner agencies coming together to secure Big Bear Valley's water future