If the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requires the cities of Colton and San Bernardino to continue its current discharges into the Santa Ana River, rather than allow some of that water to be diverted to the proposed “Clean Water Factory,” it could drive up the proposed facility’s operating costs to the point where it is no longer economically feasible, while forcing the Inland region to increase its dependence on costly imported water that is not always available.

Nature has been recycling the Earth’s water for millions of years. But as Southern California faces increasing shortfalls in water supplies – either as a result of population growth, droughts or periodic cutbacks in water deliveries from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and the Colorado River – water agencies have found they can stretch their existing supplies by recycling their own wastewater.

The City of San Bernardino Water Department, in fact, has drawn up plans to recycle as much as 25,000 acre feet of water per year and use it to recharge the Waterman groundwater basin. That’s enough water to sustain 100,000 people.

Recycling water through its proposed “Clean Water Factory,” the city hopes to build the facility next to its existing wastewater treatment plant and complete the full build-out project by 2020.

But now that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has doubled the critical habitat area for the Santa Ana Sucker, city officials worry that the Service could indirectly derail the project by requiring it to continue its current treated wastewater discharges into the Santa Ana River, rather than allowing some of that water to be redirected to the Clean Water Factory for recycling purposes.

“The Service could require require us to continue discharging so much into the Santa Ana River so much recycled water to be discharged that we cannot economically use our recycled water for groundwater recharge,” said Stacey Aldstadt, general manager of the City of San Bernardino Water Department.

“This would be a tragedy,” she said, “because this is water we need to recharge our groundwater basins. So in their effort to improve habitat for the Sucker, the Fish and Wildlife Service could end up forcing us to import water from 500 miles away. It makes no sense.”

The City of San Bernardino has joined 11 other Inland Empire agencies to legally challenge the Fish and Wildlife Service’s December 2010 critical habitat decision for the Sucker, which they say was issued in violation of the Endangered Species Act.

The agencies’ complaint outlines specific impacts of the critical habitat decision on local water, conservation and flood control agencies throughout western Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

For more, see:

Sucker ruling may cost Southern Californians a third of water supply

Fish and Wildlife Service often sued for failing to do homework