NEW Water Strategy Needed

By John Perry 

Capistrano Taxpayers Association 

After 9 years of operation, the Ground Water Recovery Plant (GWRP) is still unable to produce water reliably and at reasonable cost. The taxpayers ask the question, is it now time to develop a new strategy?

The idea of a ground water facility came from a report developed for the San Juan Basin Authority (SJBA) by NBS/Lowry Engineers and Planners in 1994. The report was the first exhaustive study of how the San Juan Basin (aquifer) works and how water from the underground source might be developed into a regional facility that could deliver water to the region in times of emergency. If a disaster like an earthquake or extended drought caused a disruption of the Metropolitan Water District supply, the SJBA could access a “lifeline” water supply from the regional facility for a short period of time during the emergency.

The idea was that the SJBA would share in the capital and operational costs of the GWRP project in return for a guarantee of emergency lifeline water.

The Lowry report proposed a two phased approach to the project. Phase I would construct a facility located in San Juan Capistrano capable of producing 1,800 acre feet of water annually. Phase II would occur several years later by expanding the plant to 7,000 acre-feet per year.

The report recognized that the San Juan Basin could not sustain heavy pumping for over three years during an emergency period without having “recharge” capability because of the danger of infusion of sea water. Because we are just 104 feet above sea level, as water is pumped out of the aquifer the level lowers to the point that sea water can contaminate the aquifer.
“Recharge” is when a source is available to replenish the water supply. Recharge could occur in the San Juan Basin during wet winters by building “settling basins” which allow flowing water to percolate through the strata to the underground aquifer, or by injecting excess water into the aquifer by wells drilled for that purpose.

At some point the original project morphed from a “regional project” into a San Juan Capistrano funded project. The elected officials of this small community of 11,000 water accounts decided to accept responsibility for repayment of the original $33.5 million in construction costs for the GWRP and to pay the operation and maintenance costs to produce some of its own water.

The distribution pipelines to other SJBA agencies were never installed nor were the settling basins built to recharge the basin after heavy pumping.

After seeing their water bills more than double over the past 9 years the taxpayers of San Juan deserve to know why there is no proposal to rethink the “go it alone” approach and to adopt a regional emergency facility as originally envisioned. Our City officials claim that we need “water reliability”, but by accepting all of the responsibility and costs of the GWRP instead of joining with the regional SJBA as originally intended, we remain at risk of not having enough affordable water for San Juan water users.

Editor’s note: The Capistrano Taxpayers Association was established as a taxpayer-protection organization. Please visit their website at:

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