New East Valley Water District Facility ‘Makes Every Source a Resource’

  • by ACWA Staff
  • Jun 21, 2024
  • Newsletters
An aerial view of the SNRC on its 20-acre site.

An aerial view of the SNRC on its 20-acre site.

Now fully operational, East Valley Water District’s (EVWD) Sterling Natural Resource Center generates power, adds a park to its surrounding community, offers high school students a look at careers in water and hosts events ranging from quinceañeras to weddings, birthday parties and celebrations of life.

And it recycles wastewater. 

Recently recognized with ACWA’s 2024 Clair A. Hill Agency Award for Excellence, the Sterling Natural Resource Center functions on so many different levels that its primary purpose counts as just one on a lengthy list of benefits for its San Bernardino County community. But to hear EVWD leaders, that was the point.

“As we started this project, we worked to incorporate multiple community benefits, while making every source a resource in achieving water sustainability,” said EVWD General Manager/CEO Michael Moore. “This project not only creates greater water resiliency for the region, but the community has embraced the facility.”

Today, the Sterling Natural Resource Center, or SNRC, is recycling up to 8 million gallons of wastewater a day as the region’s first indirect potable reuse project. The water replenishes the local groundwater basin that is at historically low levels because of climate change.

How it Works

The SNRC integrates advanced membrane bioreactor (MBR) and ultraviolet (UV) disinfection technologies, the region’s first application of these two technologies in combination, according to EVWD. MBR combines biological treatment with membrane filtration, with UV disinfection complementing the process. A compact design reduces the wastewater treatment component’s physical footprint by merging treatment steps and omitting large settling tanks. 

The deployment of MBR technology and the strategic combination of subterranean and above-ground equipment facilitates the SNRC’s integration into an urban neighborhood. 

Traditionally, a facility with SNRC’s capacity would need up to 16 acres solely for process equipment. However, the EVWD facility is efficiently contained within a 9-acre site that also includes an advanced noise and odor control system in a contained headworks facility, with its design redirecting noise upwards to further reduce community impact.

From Renewable Waste to Net-Zero Energy

The SNRC incorporates co-digestion of wastewater sludge with regionally sourced food waste, which achieves dual objectives of managing solid waste and enhancing renewable energy production. By diverting high-grade food waste from landfills, the SNRC aids in reducing carbon emissions and minimizing waste, aligning with environmental sustainability goals. The combination of these elements results in the recycling of nearly all influent material, virtually eliminating organic waste from the process, while achieving net-zero energy consumption by converting up to 130,000 gallons of organic waste streams into 3 megawatts of renewable energy.

Where it Started

Conversations that led to the SNRC began in the 2010s, according to William Ringland, EVWD’s Public Affairs and Conservation Manager. At that time, EVWD’s wastewater was treated at a non-district facility and released into the Santa Ana River, flowing out into the Pacific Ocean. District leadership sought a path to generational sustainability by treating that water and keeping it within EVWD’s service area. However, following a traditional approach on district land would have meant building a walled-off treatment facility in the middle of a residential neighborhood and a couple blocks from a high school.

With a total of 20 acres available, EVWD had plenty of room for creativity besides a treatment facility and administrative center. Driving that creativity depended on extensive community engagement, ranging from community barbecues to on-site meetings.

“At every juncture, our message was ‘We want to be your neighbors and part of the community,’,” Ringland said. “We did face pushback early on in the process, but we answered by consistently placing emphasis on gathering input and incorporating the feedback into the project design.”

Path to Completion

The SNRC broke ground in October 2018, with one last challenge ahead — the COVID-19 pandemic hitting during the middle of a major capital construction project. But with that overcome, EVWD completed the SNRC’s Administrative Center in July 2022, which includes a customer service center, banquet hall for special events and meetings, and a demonstration garden displaying water-efficient landscaping.

EVWD celebrated the treatment of the SNRC’s “first drop” in last January, and an early May ribbon-cutting marked the facility’s going fully operational.

The design-build facility was completed for a total cost of $219.5 million, with funding from a variety of sources, including Proposition 1, low interest loans, grants and through regional infrastructure partnerships.

“It’s really exciting to see the Sterling Natural Resource Center fulfilling its mission as a community resource on so many different levels,” Moore said. “As an engineer, I am excited  knowing all the hard work behind the SNRC’s innovative recycling operation is now creating generational water sustainability for our region. But on a personal level, sometimes it’s just knowing that we have people enjoying our banquet hall, park and walking trails every single day.”

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