On Thursday, Aug. 18, the Irvine Ranch Water District announced more than $300 million in grants for recycled water programs aimed at improving drought resiliency and increasing access to clean, sustainable water for families in Orange County.

The funds will also increase IRWD’s recycled water reservoir capacity, which serves more than 400,000 customers in Irvine, by more than 1 billion gallons of water capacity. 

Recycled water is a crucial component of the IRWD distribution network. In Irvine, approximately 60% of water is used for irrigation and landscape, equating to approximately 85% of common areas within the IRWD.

The announcement, made by Congresswoman Katie Porter, will utilize $12.2 million in funding through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to increase recycled water capacity in Irvine — specifically within IRWD’s Syphon Reservoir — by more than 760%. 

The Syphon Reservoir is one-of-four recycled water reservoirs controlled by the Irvine-based water district. Currently, the Syphon Reservoir, which started operating in 1949 in Orchard Hills, is approximately 500 acre-feet, with a storage capacity of 188 million gallons. 

Officially named the Syphon Reservoir Improvement Project, IRWD will expand the Syphon Reservoir to 5,000 acre-feet in order to reach a holding capacity of 1.6 billion gallons. 

In Irvine, approximately 28% of IRWD’s total water supply is created through the use of recycled water, used for irrigation and landscaping, and is distributed by an isolated network of purple-colored pipes.   

The expansion is expected to bring future benefits, including more recycled water and the ability to store more drought-proof water. 

Joined by U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton, Porter said that the impacts of climate change are already coming into focus and that action must be taken sooner, rather than later.   

“Congress passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law knowing that the longer we wait to take action, the harder — and more expensive — it will become to solve both the water crisis and climate change,” Porter said. “I’m proud to have helped bring federal resources back to Orange County that will better protect the water supply so many in our community depend on.”

In terms of a timeline, the Syphon Reservoir’s expansion project completed its environmental review process under the California Environmental Quality Act as of July 2021. The final design and construction of the project are expected to begin between Spring 2021 and Winter 2023.  

The project is estimated to take 24-36 months to complete.  

“Water is essential to everything we do and it will take all of us, working together, to address the significant drought impacts we are seeing across the West,” Haaland said. “As the climate crisis drives severe drought conditions and historically low water allocations, President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is making historic investments to address water and drought challenges and invest in our nation’s western water and power infrastructure.” 

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