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Water agency shares plans for wastewater recycling facility

PICO RIVERA — More than 75 residents reviewed a Water Replenishment District of Southern California plan June 6 to build a major wastewater recycling facility in the city and suggested ways to make the project aesthetically pleasing and a venue for education programs and community events.

The state-of-the-art recycling facility on a 5.2-acre site at 4320 San Gabriel River Parkway would purify billions of gallons of wastewater annually and use advanced treatment methods to recycle that water for groundwater replenishment.

The meeting gave residents an opportunity to share their views about how the treatment facility should be designed and the types of community amenities that could be included in the project.

“It sounds like a beautiful idea,” resident Nancy Castillo said. Castillo suggested the community amenities include a sculpture garden, public access to the San Gabriel River bike path (situated behind the project property) and a community center that is available to the public.

“Whatever [the district] does there, it will be better than what’s there now,” Pico Rivera Planning Commissioner Paul Gomez said, noting the property is now used by United Pacific Waste, a commercial and residential trash-hauling company.

Gomez urged the district to include instructional exhibits at the facility for students to learn about the importance of water conservation and to make its public amenities as user-friendly as possible

Other design and amenity suggestions from residents included Southwestern-style landscaping for the project, adobe-like architecture, demonstration gardens, bathroom and drinking fountain facilities for hikers, walkers and bicyclists, a pet-friendly area, picnic tables and a pedestrian bridge across San Gabriel River Parkway so local residents could easily and safely walk to the site.

Water Replenishment District of Southern California General Manager Robb Whitaker discusses the district's plan for a new wastewater recycling facility in Pico Rivera. (Water Replenishment District of Southern California)
Water Replenishment District of Southern California General Manager Robb Whitaker discusses the district’s plan for a new wastewater recycling facility in Pico Rivera. (Water Replenishment District of Southern California)

Robb Whitaker, general manager of the Water Replenishment District, said the agency would try its best to incorporate the community’s suggestions into the final plan.

Traffic was a major concern of residents. But district officials said only about three to five trucks per week would be entering the finished facility. The major traffic impact, they said, would occur during the construction. District officials promised to work closely with the community to mitigate that impact.

Other residents urged the district to hire local contractors and workers to build the project.

“Our bidding documents encourage the hiring of local labor,” Whitaker told the audience.

Later, Whitaker called the meeting a “great success.”

“We learned a lot today, and the public learned a lot about what our project entails,” said Whitaker. The district has already pledged to make a community or visitor center part of the project.

“We’re here to get your ideas about this project that can serve as an asset and resource to Pico Rivera,” district board member John Allen told the audience. “This meeting is the first step in [the district] working with Pico Rivera as a community partner.”

District officials also used the meeting to explain that the 45,000-square-foot water treatment facility that will occupy about a third of the 5.2-acre site is part of the district’s Groundwater Reliability Improvement Program. Under that program, the district will entirely use recycled wastewater to recharge the giant underground aquifers the agency manages. The groundwater pumped out of those aquifers by local water companies and municipalities provides about 40 percent of the water used by 4 million residents of South Los Angeles County.

Currently about one third of the water the district acquires to replenish the aquifers is imported from Northern California or the Colorado River. However, imported water is becoming increasingly expensive and difficult to obtain, conditions that have been aggravated by the state’s drought, Whitaker said.

When the water treatment facility in Pico Rivera becomes fully operational, the district will no longer have to acquire imported water to keep its aquifers full.

For those who might feel queasy about the use of recycled wastewater, Whitaker reminded the audience that “all water is recycled water.” The advanced water treatment facility will purify the wastewater, district officials said.

Whitaker also pointed out that district has been safely using recycled wastewater to replenish its aquifers for the past 55 years without any health problems.

“Now we’ll just be using more of it,” he said. “Recycled water is entirely safe and there’s a proven track record that it is.”

Ken Ortega, the district’s assistant general manager, also told the audience that the construction of the wastewater recycling facility “will have zero impact on your water rates.”