Commentary: Federal grant allows Petaluma to expand recycled water use

Every drop of water counts, and the 78 acre-feet per year (more than 25 million gallons) of potable water saved via this recycled water pipeline is certainly more than a few drops.|

I’m thrilled to share the news that the North Bay Water Reuse Program (NBWRP) has been awarded a federal grant of $6.9 million to help expand the capacity, distribution and use of recycled water produced at Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility in Petaluma. This is wonderful news, as the grant provides over 25% of the anticipated cost of three key projects, which are crucial as we work to build resiliency in our water delivery system — especially in this time of historic drought.

This funding comes from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for the planning, design and construction of water reuse projects, through the WaterSMART: Title XVI WIIN Act Water Reclamation and Reuse Projects program. The NBWRP is very grateful for this grant, and to Rep. Jared Huffman and all our federal, state and regional partners (Napa, Marin and Sonoma counties). This federal funding is in addition to just over $4 million in funding from the California Department of Water Resources in 2020 for recycled water projects in the cities of American Canyon and Petaluma.

Like many others in the west, our region is facing the very real prospect of increasingly severe water shortages, with no end to the drought in sight. It’s the “new normal” of our water supply challenges, and we must keep in mind that every gallon of recycled water used is a gallon of drinking water that is saved for other critical uses. This funding, in support of the work we do at NBWRP, helps us continue to become more sustainable with our water use and reuse. This brings immense benefit to the people who live, work, and visit this area, to our regional environment and wildlife, and to our very way of life.

One of the projects that this grant supports will provide a significant increase in the tertiary treated recycled water production capacity at the City of Petaluma’s Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility (ECWRF). Upgrades there will increase capacity from the current 4.68 million gallons per day (MGD) to 6.8 MGD. That’s nearly 2.5 billion gallons of recycled water available annually for a variety of permitted uses, including landscape irrigation, car washes, cooling towers, toilet flushing, commercial laundries, and other non-potable needs that would otherwise be met with our precious drinking water.

Additionally, the grant will help to extend recycled water pipelines that originate from the ECWRF to existing landscape customers currently served by Petaluma’s potable water system. That means those customers will be able to switch their landscape irrigation use from drinking water, to recycled water. Every drop of water counts, and the 78 acre-feet per year (more than 25 million gallons) of potable water saved via this recycled water pipeline is certainly more than a few drops.

And finally, this new funding will help extend recycled water pipelines from the ECWRF eastward to serve an estimated 200-400 acre-feet per year to agricultural customers along Lakeville Highway. By efficiently utilizing existing assets to increase the distribution of recycled water, we will benefit from even more savings of our precious drinking water sources.

The total combined cost of these three projects is estimated at $27.7 million, and the federal grant will cover about $6.9 million of that. This grant is a great example of partnership at the local, state, and federal levels, joining together to address what is perhaps the most significant threat that we face – climate variability and its impacts, including continuing drought. There is no doubt that we must face this threat directly, and through this grant and the continued work of the NBWRP, we are doing just that.

The NBWRP is a regional water recycling initiative encompassing portions of Marin, Sonoma and Napa counties surrounding northern San Francisco Bay, known as San Pablo Bay. The program is a coordinated effort of 11 municipal, water, and wastewater agencies working collaboratively to develop recycled water to build capacity and resiliency into the region’s water supply. Learn more at

David Rabbitt is the Sonoma County District 2 Supervisor and chair of North Bay Water Reuse Authority.

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