What connects Huntington Beach with Big Bear? No, it’s not just a series of major freeways and mountain roads, it’s the Santa Ana River and the streams that feed it.

Map of the Santa Ana Watershed, which connects Big Bear with Huntington Beach.

It’s sometimes hard to imagine that besides all of the concrete and freeways, we have a natural ecological system, but it’s there. The Santa Ana River and its tributaries make up the Santa Ana River watershed. A watershed is area which all the rainwater collects and drains out. Like a funnel – all of the water that falls into it is eventually flows out the bottom. In this case, all of the water that falls from Pomona to Big Bear to Hemet flows south west – past Disneyland – and out to the sea by Huntington Beach.

What does this have to do with you? It’s quite simple. If you live in the area, the water that comes out of your tap likely comes from one of five different water agencies:

These five member agencies all exist within the Santa Ana Watershed.

  • Eastern Municipal Water Disctrict
  • Western Municipal Water District
  • Inland Empire Utilities Agency
  • San Bernardino Valley Water District
  • Orange County Water District

Each of these water agencies are a little different but together cover most of the Santa Ana River Watershed and the major water needs of the region. SAWPA (the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority) was created as an avenue for these five agencies to work together on water projects and programs affecting the watershed.

The “Brine Line” protects our groundwater by sending excess salt out to the ocean.

The one of the most important things that SAWPA works on is the “brine line.” The Santa Ana Watershed is lucky enough to have groundwater – basically a giant aquifer or underground lake that supplies us all with some of our water. Unfortunately, some of this water is unusually salty, and in order for us to drink it, we have to take the salt out. That means that we also have to protect it from getting more salty. The brine line carries salty water out to the sea, which allows large industrial businesses to operate in the area. A lot of businesses use a great deal of water, and since they use so much, they can’t get rid of it freely without endangering our groundwater with more salt. There is a surprising array of “salty” businesses, including power plants, computer chip manufacturers, hospitals, commercial laundry facilities, and even research, biotech, and food processing facilities. The “brine line” is what makes the jobs in those businesses possible, now and in the future.

SAWPA also works with these agencies to make sure that we all have enough clean water. That mission is important because our health depends on having a clean supply of water. Our ability to live, work, and operate successful businesses in the Inland Empire and in Orange County depends on having a reliable supply of clean water. Since what happens in one part of the watershed often has an impact on other parts of the watershed, it makes sense to have a place where water suppliers can work together to protect the health and the economic prosperity of the region. That is SAWPA’s function and mission.

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