SEVEN OAKS DAM — A group of area water agencies has joined forces on a new project that will dramatically improve the region’s ability to capture and store water for San Bernardino Valley area.

The first phase of the agencies’ Enhanced Recharge Project was put into operations last month, marking the start of a larger plan to provide a resilient and reliable water supply to the people living and working in Highland, Redlands and surrounding cities.

To kick off the project, representatives from the project’s partner agencies — the San Bernardino Municipal Water District, San Bernardino Valley Water Conservation District, Western Municipal Water District — were joined by area dignitaries and community members at a ceremony May 24 that included a dramatic water flow release from the Seven Oaks Dam into the new $14 million Enhanced Recharge sedimentation basin.

The initial phase of the project included new intake improvements to better capture water flowing from the nearby mountains and streams, a sedimentation basin to contain the rock and sand in those flows, and cleaner water goes to the recharge basins to hold the water so that it has time to percolate into the groundwater basin below.

Phase 2 of the project will include the construction of recharge also called percolation basins farther downstream, which will more than double the amount of water that can be captured in the winter and stored underground for summer or dry years. These facilities will significantly expand the existing 71 basins covering about 700 acres.

Apart from these new facilities, the Conservation District designated land use in the area for water recharge, habitat conservation and mining — balancing the needs of the community, environment and industry as recently authorized under the Santa Ana River Wash Plan Land Exchange Act, which was signed into law earlier this year.

“This project is a prime example of multi-agency cooperation, collaboration and close coordination,” said Richard Corneille, president of the San Bernardino Valley Water Conservation District. “Working together, we have taken the best of our respective financial, land and staff assets and skills and are bringing them together to build a more efficient water storage system for the communities we serve.”

To date, members of the Groundwater Council include the three partners involved in the Enhanced Recharge Project, along with East Valley Water District, the cities of Colton, Redlands, Loma Linda and Rialto, Riverside Public Utilities, San Bernardino Municipal Water District, Riverside Highland Water Company, Fontana Water Company, and Yucaipa Valley Water District.