By Deb Murphy

A smaller and less “think outside the box” group of Big Pine residents met with water department staff and consultants last week to narrow down potential end-uses for a recycled water project, the first in Inyo County.

Water Department Mitigation Manager Larry Freilich masterminded the $267,000 grant from the state Department of Water Resources to conduct a feasibility study of potential uses and related costs of recycling water from the Big Pine Community Service District.

An initial meeting in July came up with 18 possible projects, ranging from putting greens to hops production. Those suggestions were rated and a final list of the highest ranking eight were discussed at Tuesday’s community meeting.

Faced with the brutal reality of costs in terms of waste water treatment upgrades, conveyance, installation and increases in operating and maintenance costs to the CSD, the group made the most practical choice: use the water on a Los Angeles Department of Water and Power mitigation project, 180 acres east of town, and do a swap of equal value in surface water for a range of community irrigation projects, including those currently irrigated by the Big Pine schools.

The over-riding challenges were: the level of treatment by the CSD precluded agricultural uses, neither the CSD nor the Big Pine Paiute Tribe of the Owens Valley were willing to incur increases in operation and maintenance costs and, as the district’s president BryAnne Vaughn explained, “unless someone at this table is willing to fund” a commercial use, the project had to be practical. “Instead of pumping recycled water from the district,” she said, projects could be irrigated from surface water coming down from Baker Creek. The advantage would be reductions in water costs to the school

According to Freilich, the choices in developing native plants on the 180 acres of mitigation would be to irrigate with the recycled water or reduce nitrogen levels and dump the water directly into the Big Pine Canal.

The next step: the consultants will come up with a study and any necessary environmental documents for the project and hold a third community meeting.