New underground basins planned to help SoCal store water for next drought

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Friday, April 7, 2023
New water basins planned to help SoCal prep for next drought
Inland Empire agencies are investing in additional underground water storage to prepare for California's next drought.

COLTON, Calif. (KABC) -- With all the rain Southern California had this winter, local water agencies are working harder to capture and keep all that water for when the drier years return.

In San Bernardino, you might not notice the latest project because much of it will be underground.

The Santa Ana River flows from the San Bernardino Mountains to the Pacific Ocean in Orange County. While much of that water does end up in the ocean, plenty is stored in aquifers and reservoirs.

Funding has recently been provided for another project to store a massive amount of water underground.

Michael Esquer with the San Bernardino Municipal Water District explains there is already infrastructure in place to capture water melting from the mountains.

As the snow melts, the water makes its way into recharge basins east of Highland. It then seeps into the ground and recharges an underground reservoir known as the Bunker Hill Basin.

While it might not seem as big as reservoirs like Diamond Valley Lake or the reservoir behind the Prado Dam, the Bunker Hill Basin has nearly 6 million-acre feet of capacity.

"It's the size of Lake Shasta, under our feet," Esquer said. "It's huge."

On Friday, officials announced a new project to build even more of these recharge basins.

The project is helped by a $2.5 million investment secured last year by Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-San Bernardino.

"Much of this region in the San Bernardino valley derives our water from groundwater sources, and so making sure that water makes its way into our underground detention basins is the most important thing we can do so the water doesn't run off into the ocean and we lose it forever," Aguilar said.

When complete, these new basins will allow local water districts to more than double the rate that water recharges the Bunker Hill Basin, making the region more resilient in future droughts.

"The new norm it seems is to have a wet year like this year, followed by a bunch of dry years," Esquer said. "It's very important to capture that water when it's available, fill that basin up. It helps make this area and this region much more drought resilient than what it's historically been."

The project is set to break ground in June and is slated for completion by early 2025.