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Foothill utility floats water recycling idea

Supplying water to thousands of homes and buildings in a semi-arid climate threaded by dwindling river systems is no small task.

Foothill residents currently get less than half their water from local groundwater basins and canyon runoff. The remaining 60% is imported from faraway sources such as the Sacramento/San Joaquin Bay/Delta Watershed and the Colorado River, and supply is at the mercy of drought conditions and regulations occurring hundreds of miles away.

Now local officials with the Foothill Municipal Water District have a plan to create more locally sourced water. Working in collaboration with graduate students and advisers at Cal Poly Pomona, they've designed a way to divert and treat some of the city's wastewater and return it directly to a local groundwater store. If the plan is approved, the discharge location for the treated water could be right under the La Cañada High School football field.

"The project goal is to develop a sustainable local water resource in the community," said John Robinson, an engineering consultant working with the local water district to oversee the project, which could be completed by October 2016.

This project is unique and innovative, Robinson said, because it's locally sustainable, saves energy and provides different types of usable water. It is expected to produce an additional 318 acre feet of water to the local supply, or about 103.6 million gallons.

Reducing the area's reliance on imported water also saves the district an energy equivalent of about 85 homes per year, Robinson added. Associated with that is an additional, but hard to calculate, carbon footprint decrease.

The cost of constructing a membrane bioreactor facility to clean the water and laying pipeline to discharge it is roughly $2.9 million. To that end, Foothill Municipal has applied for grants to cover nearly two-thirds of the total cost. The rest would have to come from capital improvement project funds, according to Robinson.

The water district worked with several diverse entities on the design. It worked on the design with three departments at Cal Poly Pomona, negotiated the transfer of wastewater through the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles Country, and sought input from La Cañada Methodist Church and La Cañada High School, which own land being eyed for the project.

LCHS Principal Ian McFeat and La Cañada Unified School District officials were approached last year and asked their opinion on the installation of a filtration gallery — a long network of drip pipes — underneath the high school's football field.

"It's an interesting idea," McFeat said Monday. "I think that's why the district's listening and looking at what their options are. It's really the public's say."

Artificial turf on the field now is about a decade old. As part of the project, the school would receive a brand new field, to be installed during a future summer break when it's not in use, Robinson said.

"It's had a lot of use on it," McFeat acknowledged. "It's been well-worn."

Meredith McKenzie, a lecturer at the Cal Poly Pomona's urban and regional planning department, was at the forefront of the project's collaboration. She believes the partnership helped create a template that could be used in other communities.

"[Foothill Municipal] had the technical study done. We brought out design and planning resources to the table so they now had a prototype," McKenzie said. "We think the prototype that's been done, with modifications, has a lot of exciting possibilities for other groups."

Her team created a curriculum that would allow the project to be used as a tool for classroom discussions around wider themes of environmental stewardship and conservation.

"This project, for me, is just part of the bigger puzzle," she said. "It's just another component of how we keep our natural water resources functioning."

Foothill Municipal will hold public hearings at city council and school board meetings in September to gather public input before presenting the project to its board of directors.

For more information, call (818) 790-4036 or visit www.fmwd.com/project-description.aspx.

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