On Thursday morning several local elected and appointed officials, city and county staff and policy leaders were on hand for a grand opening celebration for the city’s Sustainable Water Infrastructure Project, or “SWIP.” Santa Monica’s first-of-its-kind structure is actually located below the surface near city hall, prompting event emcee Sunny Wang, a Santa Monica Water Resources Manager, to quip, “I know on the surface it may look like a parking lot – you are not here for a grand opening of a parking lot.”

The SWIP, the first underground water treatment facility in the country, contains a one-and-a-half million gallon stormwater harvesting tank adjacent to an advanced one million gallons a day stormwater facility that purifies a mix of stormwater, urban runoff, and municipal wastewater “beyond drinking water quality” according to Wang. While it will primarily be used for irrigation and wastewater purification to start, the facility promises to recharge the groundwater system down the road. All told, SWIP will provide roughly 10% of the City’s total water supply.

The City of Santa Monica has invested more than $200 Million in a more sustainable water future for residents. Another one-and-a-half million-gallon water storage tank is based close to the Santa Monica Pier. Another Santa Monica-based water treatment facility will be expanding next year and will deliver one of the first in the nation pure reverse osmosis infrastructure. All of the investments will reduce the city’s reliance on imported water, which often travels long distances, something which comes at a cost to our environmental footprint.

“We are celebrating the completion of a project that will actively combat the effects of climate change, and push Santa Monica closer to our water future,” said Mayor Sue Himmelrich. She acknowledged that big projects like the SWIP require strong partnerships, and thanked the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) for contributing more than $19 Million over the last 25 years to helping Santa Monica’s ability to produce a local water supply. She also thanked the City of L.A.’s Department of Public Works for a $7 Million contribution, and the State Water Resources Control Board for a revolving loan of an impressive $75 million to help produce local water. Himmelrich added that these partnerships will be a model for other localities in the future.

Mark Pestrella, the Director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works, told the crowd, “For many, many years, we struggled with the idea of how to optimize the use of our water; to improve the quality of our water in Los Angeles County.” He added, “The Safe Clean Water Program is the manifestation of our collective effort to really value our water here in California and the County of Los Angeles, and to treat it as a resource and not a waste.” He was also complimentary of Santa Monica as a real leader on the issue of water resiliency. He also praised Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, a Santa Monica resident, for her leadership in making “big things” happen on water resiliency.

Referring to young people that joined the event, and referencing his own three-year-old granddaughter, David Nahai, Vice Chair of the Regional Water Quality Control Board, said, “It is my fervent hope that at some point, they will look back in history on projects such as this and say, ‘this is an example of what can be done.’” He added, “The work we do here today is for their future, and for my granddaughter’s future.”

State Water Resource Control Board member Nicole Morgan joined in the chorus of compliments for the City of Santa Monica, and said, “Projects like this one are already helping to expand California’s water supply and to mitigate the impacts of climate change today.” Praising 2014’s Proposition 1, Morgan said, “Stormwater projects alone funded by Proposition 1 are already adding 60,000 acre-feet [of water] per year.” She equated that to serving 180,000 households per year.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, the city offered attendees an opportunity to tour the facility below and see water treatment in action.

Photo Courtesy of The City of Santa Monica

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