Ventura Mayor Joe Schroeder addressing the assembled crowd .
by Richard Lieberman
To turn wastewater into safe drinking water Ventura has been awarded a federal loan amounting to $174 million. The loan will cover half the cost of a new program that will convert treated wastewater into safe drinking water. Currently wastewater from the city is sent to the Ventura Water Reclamation Facility. Once there it is treated and cleaned then discharged into Santa Clara River Estuary. When the program is completed a portion of this treated water will be sent to a new Advanced Water Purification Facility for reuse.
At a news conference held at the city’s water reclamation plant, speakers said the new program will be beneficial to the environment, increase water supplies by around 20%, and will be a safeguard to the community against drought.
Speaking to the assembled crowd Ventura Mayor Joe Schroeder called the award a “monumental milestone” at the event where federal, state, and city officials gathered to revel in the $174 million in new funding. The project is called Ventura Water Pure and upon completion will supply the city with a scientifically proven method that will treat wastewater to drinking water standards.
The loans will pay for about half of the $354 million slated to be spent on the initial phases of the program, said Director Linda Sumansky. Currently 5.5 million gallons of treated effluent are going into the estuary on a daily basis. Around 60% of that will be diverted to an advanced purification plant slated to be built for the project. “The plan is to get to zero discharge. “Said Vince Ines, wastewater utility manager for the city” Another phase of the project which will let all the effluent to be diverted will cost the city an additional $80 million.
Ventura is one of the largest cities in Southern California to rely solely on local water supplies. Rainfall feeds the Ventura River, Lake Casitas, and groundwater basins to meet all community needs. Prolonged drought conditions and increasing environmental regulations have created challenging conditions to maintain and increase local water sources.
This new program began after a 2012 legal settlement with environmental groups over discharge of wastewater into the estuary, which provides habitats for birds and fish. Under the current plan wastewater will be sent to a facility being built near Ventura Harbor for advanced treatment. After treatment, the water will be injected into underground basins and blended with groundwater before being made available to water customers in Ventura. Vince Ines wastewater utility manager said “the resulting water will be better tasting and of a higher quality than it is now”
State Officials have not yet approved regulations to allow cities to sell converted wastewater by itself as potable water.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved the loan, as part of a $50 billion water initiative supporting infrastructure projects initiated by the Biden administration an EPA official said.
“WE have to diversify the water supply and conserve what we have, especially, in the context of the climate crisis,” said Radhika Fox, assistant administrator for water at the EPA.
The city will, of course, need to repay the loan. Terms so far are the city will repay the 35-year loans at an interest rate of 3.66% with revenues paid by water customers. Increases in water rates have already been approved at 6% for water and 7% for wastewater but another rate study will be started in the next couple of years.
“We are grateful to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for awarding the City of Ventura a transformative$173 million WIFIA loan. This funding is a vital investment in our community’s water infrastructure, ensuring the well-being and prosperity of our residents. With the EPA’s support, we can embark on crucial projects that will enhance our drinking water systems, improve wastewater treatment, and promote sustainable water practices,” said Ventura Mayor Joe Schroeder.