Article by Kanna Vancheswaran

Public-Private Partnership Funds Recycled Water Project in Cerritos

Kanna Vancheswaran is director of public works and city engineer for the City of Cerritos; he can be reached at

Located in Southern California and incorporated in 1956, the City of Cerritos (pop. 50,039) covers approximately 9 square miles. Cerritos is a park-like community with landscaped medians and parkways on most arterial roads, 27 parks and an urban forest exceeding 28,000 trees. 

The city is allocated 4,000 acre-feet of reclaimed water annually under an agreement with the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County. (An acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre at a depth of one foot, which is about 326,000 gallons.) Cerritos uses recycled water to irrigate open-space areas, including all parks, street landscape medians and parkways. In addition, the city provides recycled water to all public school campuses within the city limits, the neighboring City of Lakewood and landscaped areas of state freeway corridors inside the city limits. Cerritos uses 2,200 acre-feet of recycled water annually, thereby saving over 717 million gallons of potable water. 

Creating a Partnership

Forest Lawn Memorial Park Association (Forest Lawn), a nonprofit mutual benefit corporation, owns and operates several cemeteries in Southern California, including one in the City of Cypress located approximately 2.5 miles from Cerritos.

Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cypress (FLMPC) has extensive landscaped grounds that use approximately 250 acre-feet of irrigation water annually. This amount will eventually increase when the cemetery is fully developed. To meet its irrigation needs, FLMPC primarily used potable water supplied by Golden State Water Company and an on-site well.

In 2013–14, severe drought conditions prevailed in California and the state mandated reductions in the use of potable water. Because these water reduction mandates exempted recycled water use, landscaping within the public areas of Cerritos remained mostly unaffected.

Cerritos conceived a project to expand its recycled water infrastructure to serve FLMPC. The two parties agreed to collaborate on the project. Cerritos would serve as the lead agency, procuring and managing design, engineering, project management and construction services. Forest Lawn agreed to provide financial support and cover any additional costs beyond grant amounts received by Cerritos for the project. In turn, Cerritos agreed to provide recycled water at a discount that will remain in place until Forest Lawn recoups its financial investment.

The estimated project cost was $2.4 million. Cerritos secured a grant in the amount of $1,015,285 for the proposed project, funded through Proposition 84 (The Safe Drinking Water, Water Quality and Supply, Flood Control, River and Coastal Protection Bond Act of 2006), with the stipulation that the project be completed in one year. 

In December 2014, the Cerritos City Council approved an agreement with Forest Lawn and awarded a professional services contract to a private firm to provide grant, project and construction management services. The city contracted with a second consulting firm to provide design and engineering services.

Addressing Challenges Across Jurisdictions

This project presented some significant challenges:

  • Design documents required approval from the cities of Cerritos, Lakewood and Cypress, Los Angeles and Orange County Flood Control districts and Forest Lawn’s Engineering Department;
  • Cross-connection requirements for both Los Angeles County and Orange County had to be met; and
  • Cerritos required approval from Golden State Water Company, the local water purveyor, to enable the sale of recycled water to FLMPC, which lies within the water company’s distribution area.

Attending to the Details

The contracted engineers met regularly with staff from the city, Forest Lawn and the project management firm to make quick decisions on issues related to alignment, materials and other details. Concurrently, to facilitate timely reviews and approvals the project management firm contacted agencies that had jurisdiction over the proposed pipeline that would convey the recycled water from Cerritos to FLMPC. 

The 2.5-mile pipeline runs under city streets and crosses two bridges before terminating at FLMPC’s main irrigation system junction point (see map on page 15). The project team completed the final design documents in April 2015.

Because Golden State Water Company does not offer recycled water in the area in which FLMPC is located, the company entered into an agreement with Cerritos to purchase recycled water that is sold to FLMPC at the discounted rate previously established.

In May 2015, the Cerritos City Council hired a general contractor to build the project for $1.9 million. The general contractor commenced work in July and completed the project in December 2015. 

The approved budget for this project was $2,417,916. Change orders totaled $213,884. The construction management firm characterized the cost as “very reasonable for fast-track projects involving subsurface construction.”

Project Produces Significant Water Savings

Cerritos began providing recycled water to FLMPC in August 2016. In the first year of service, FLMPC used 245 acre-feet of recycled water, thereby saving approximately 80 million gallons of potable water. Forest Lawn Chief Engineer Clint Granath anticipates that the facility will eventually use 400 acre-feet of recycled water annually for irrigation. This will save 130 million gallons of potable water per year.

Forest Lawn will recoup its $1.6 million investment in the project via the rate discount.

Public-private partnerships can deliver cost-effective, timely and efficient results by using the best practices of the public and private sectors. Cerritos Mayor Mark Pulido describes this project as “innovative and environmentally responsible” because it significantly reduced the use of potable water and generated a new stream of revenue for the city.

Tips for Successful Public-Private Partnerships

  • Identify all potential constraints, challenges and causes of delay and develop alternative plans to address each item;
  • Plan on pursuing several activities simultaneously; and
  • Provide the city council with a complete picture of pros and cons before commencing any aspect of the project.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the City of Cerritos (Pipeline).