Home Featured News Riverside County’s Ambitious Water Banking Program

Riverside County’s Ambitious Water Banking Program

Saving for a Non-Rainy Day

The water districts in Riverside County have joined together to safeguard against future droughts. The Santa Ana River Conservation and Conjunctive Use Project (SARCCUP) is comprised of the Eastern Municipal Water District (EMWD), Inland Empire Utilities Agency (IEUA), Orange County Water District (OCWD), San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District (SBVMWD), and Western Municipal Water District (WMWD).

This historic collaborative regional program aims to improve the water supply resiliency and reliability of the Santa Ana River Watershed by providing access to stored water supplies from local groundwater basins in the event of drought.

What is water banking?

Water banking is a practice that has long been used to solve water issues in California and other Western states. It is a great strategy to create a safe and reliable local water supply that remains ready for residents in the region. 

Water banking facilities receive imported water supplies available during wet years and store it in local groundwater basins. The water is then used to meet demands during dry periods. Storing water underground minimizes the impact of losing water to evaporation. Additionally, water can also be recycled from various sources and treated instead of being wasted.

For example, one of EMWD’s current projects is the Mountain Avenue West Groundwater Replenishment Basin, located in San Jacinto. There, water in large ponds seeps into the groundwater basin. It is estimated that this project alone will help EMWD store enough water for more than 15,000 families each year.

Research by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) indicates California’s groundwater basins can store three times as much water as the state’s dams.  Additionally, the Clean Water Action organization finds groundwater storage is climate resilient and cheaper than surface water storage: $2.7 billion can fund 8.4 million acre-feet of groundwater storage, compared to just 1.4 million acre-feet of storage.

Better together

Conjunctive management projects such SARCCUP provide many benefits for the communities they serve. These include:

  • Improving local water supply and groundwater quality 
  • Reducing groundwater overdraft
  • Increasing flood protection
  • Helping meet environmental needs 
  • Countering subsidence

The primary goal is to maximize the development and use of water supplies; the SARCCUP is greater than the independent management of these resources. According to the agreement, SARCCUP will ensure up to 137,000 acre-feet of water is set aside in six groundwater basins within the Santa Ana watershed. 

“This groundbreaking agreement provides an unrivaled solution to ongoing water supply challenges,” IEUA Board President and Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority (SAWPA) Chair Jasmin A. Hall said when the agreement was announced in September 2021. “Through proactive planning and collaboration, the region is well-positioned to contend with future droughts and add to our diverse water supply portfolio, while adding increased resiliency to the region’s water supply.”

More than $55 million in grants from California Proposition 84 were secured to fund the program thanks to assistance from SAWPA, this includes assisting retail water agencies in creating efficiency-based budgets.

“This is a historic agreement and will benefit millions of Southern California residents by better preparing our respective regions for future droughts,” noted Eastern Municipal Water District Board President Phil Paule. “We are proud to have helped develop and implement this innovative program. We sincerely appreciate the partnerships of all the member agencies that have helped make this program possible.”

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