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Water purification plant opens

DESALTER: It removes 75 percent of nitrates and 80 percent of salt in Norco's groundwater.

10:23 PM PST on Saturday, January 31, 2004

Norco residents can throw away their purifiers, Brita pitchers and Evian bottles because they now have drinking water that should be the envy of every community in California.

Four local government organizations recently completed a joint project to enhance the Arlington Desalter water treatment plant, which has been providing clean drinking water to the city of Norco via a 10-mile pipeline since Nov. 5. Employees of the plant, located in west Riverside, celebrated the achievement Friday afternoon with several local, regional and state officials.

"The water that comes out of this plant is cleaner than bottled water," said Denis Bilodeau, president of the Orange County Water District. "This is some of the cleanest water you are going to find on the planet."

Kurt Miller / The Press-Enterprise
"The water that comes out of this plant is cleaner than bottled water," an official says of the Arlington Desalter water treatment plant in west Riverside.

The Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority, Western Municipal Water District, Orange County Water District and the city of Norco combined on the project, which is among a growing number of desalter treatment plants in the Inland area. Similar plants exist in Perris, Chino and Corona.

The Arlington plant opened in 1990 and was originally used to desalinate groundwater that was put into the Santa Ana River and flowed into Orange County. The enhancement project has made the water significantly cleaner, according to SAWPA Executive Manager Eldon Horst. The plant now removes 75 percent of all nitrates and 80 percent of all salt in the groundwater, Horst said, making it fit for consumption.

To complete the enhancement the plant added a clear well, a pump station, two treatment devices to disinfect and adjust PH levels, and the pipeline, which delivers the water through Corona. The salts are removed through reverse osmosis, a technology that turns undrinkable groundwater into high-quality drinking water.

Norco uses as much water from the plant as it requires, and the remainder goes into the river for Orange County's use. Norco keeps an estimated three-quarters to four-fifths of the water, according to plant employees, and Orange County also benefits because the quality of water going into the river is higher.

"For years we've struggled with our water quality because we have our own wells," said Norco Mayor Frank Hall. "This will solve the problem for us. We have adequate water, we just haven't had quality water. This will raise the quality of our water tremendously."

The project cost $18 million to complete, of which $10 million came from local financing and $8 million from a clean-water bond act. The Safe Drinking Water, Clean Water, Watershed Protection and Flood Protection Bond Act was approved in March 2000.

The plant produces 6.7 million gallons of water per day and about 5,400 acre-feet of drinking water for Norco per year. One acre-foot is enough to provide water to two typical families for one year. Water from the plant will blend with Norco's groundwater supply, which has historically had high mineral content.

The enhancements also eliminate the need for water-softener devices. When there is too much salt in water, it can have a corrosive effect on household items such as laundry machines, dishwashers and water faucets, Bilodeau said.

SAWPA General Manager Joe Grindstaff told the audience that about a third of the watershed has been drought-proofed, but another $2.5 billion worth of projects still needs to be completed to finish the job.

"Water is not sexy, and until somebody turns on the tap and it comes out brown or it doesn't come out at all, people take it for granted," said Assemblyman Todd Spitzer, R-Orange, the keynote speaker at Friday's ceremony.

"That's why it's so hard to build public support for these projects. The general public has a hard time understanding that there's a problem with the quality of our water, not just the quantity."

Assemblyman John Benoit, R-Palm Desert, who also attended, said the entire region needs to pay more attention to the clean water issue.

"It's going to be the most precious limited resource in our future," Benoit said. "We have quite a bit of water available that's not usable because of the amount of salt in it. This is a small step toward water independence."