LANCASTER, Calif. (CNS) -- After three years of construction, water officials announced Monday the completion of the first stage of a groundwater storage project they say will "significantly increase" Southern California's water supply in the face of a "rapidly changing climate."
Officials from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and the Antelope Valley-East Kern Water Agency gathered in Lancaster to celebrate the High Desert Water Bank, which will allow Metropolitan to store water from the State Water Project in the Antelope Valley groundwater basin.
The State Water Project is a multi-purpose water storage and delivery system that extends more than 705 miles to 27 million Californians, 750,000 acres of farmland and businesses throughout the state, according to the California Department of Water Resources.
"This investment makes all our communities better prepared for the weather extremes that we increasingly confront," Adán Ortega Jr., MWD board chair, said during a ceremony Monday morning. "We know that climate change will bring more of the dramatic swings between wet and dry that we saw over the last few years, so we must take every opportunity to store water when it is available.
"The great news is, we completed this work in time to take advantage of this historically wet year," he added.
At 280,000 acre-feet, officials say the water bank's capacity is comparable in size to Castaic Lake -- nearly the size of Lake Perris and four times the capacity of Big Bear Lake.
The water bank will allow Metropolitan to annually store and withdraw up to 70,000 acre-feet of water -- enough to serve the annual needs of 210,000 Southern California homes.
According to water officials, the water bank will take water directly from the East Branch of the State Water Project's California Aqueduct and move it into recharge basins, where it percolates into the underlying aquifer. When water is needed, it can be pumped out using newly built wells and delivered to Southern California communities through the California Aqueduct.
Matthew Knudson, general manager of the Antelope Valley-East Kern Water Agency, said they designed the project to ensure it provides "maximum benefit" to SoCal communities. He added, "This water will be available during extreme droughts or emergencies, when there is limited other water available through the State Water Project.
According to Adel Hagekhalil, general manager of Metropolitan, the water bank will reduce SoCal's reliance on the Colorado River -- which faces a "structural imbalance and requires significant cutbacks by all river uses."
Hagekhalil also called on SoCal residents to be more efficient with their water use, and added, "Metropolitan is also making big investments to adapt to future stresses on our water supplies."
Water officials, during the ceremony, announced a process called the Climate Adaption Master Plan for Water, which is intended to help determine the types of additional investments necessary for water supply reliability in response to a changing climate.
The partnership between Metropolitan and Antelope Valley-East Kern to build the High Water Bank began in 2019.
Metropolitan provided $211 million for construction of the project on Antelope Valley-East Kern property that was formerly farmland and vacant land.
Water officials said the first phase of the project resulted in the construction of the stage 1 recharge basins, which are approximately 40% of the total recharge area; 10 recovery wells; five monitoring wells; and the turn- in/turn-out facilities from the California Aqueduct.
Antelope Valley-East Kern is currently building the stage 2 recharge basins and over the next couple of years will construct 17 additional recovery wells for a total of 27 wells, and an arsenic treatment facility.
The High Desert Water Bank is expected to be fully operational in 2027.
"This is a shining example of a multi-benefit project that is good for AVEK and Metropolitan customers, the Antelope Valley, and all of Southern California," George Lane, AVEK board president, said in a statement. "We hope this project showcases what is possible when two agencies commit to shared goal of water sustainability."