News Feature | March 3, 2017

Recycled Wastewater Ambitions Hit Snag In San Diego

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

San Diego officials want to serve up treated sewage water to customers’ taps within the next decade, but officials in neighboring cities are wary of the effort.

The problem, in a nutshell, is that neighboring cities use San Diego’s sewage services, and these client cities are worried about shouldering the cost of infrastructure upgrades as the city pursues its recycled water ambitions.

“Cities and water districts in East County, North County and the South Bay have lined up to oppose the city of San Diego’s ambitious plans to turn sewage into drinkable water,” Voice of San Diego reported.

The city’s Pure Water initiative seeks to produce “30 million gallons per day of recycled water by 2022,” the report said.

Phase one of the project, per the city, “is comprised of four projects that will deliver 30 million gallons per day (mgd) of purified water to Miramar Reservoir. Once in the reservoir, the purified water will blend with the city’s imported and local water sources before it is treated again at the Miramar Drinking Water Treatment Plant and distributed to the public.”

Neighbor cities are advocating for a less ambitious version of the project that would produce half as much water per day, the report said.

“The mayors of Coronado and Chula Vista, city council members in Poway and Lemon Grove, and officials from water agencies in San Diego’s eastern and southern suburbs are all trying to rein in the project,” the report said.

“Those cities — and every city from Imperial Beach to Alpine — send their sewage to the city for treatment. So, when San Diego upgrades its sewage infrastructure, customers in other cities pay more. The other cities say San Diego hasn’t told them exactly what the project will cost their ratepayers. That’s, in part, because San Diego doesn’t know,” the report said.

The Metro Joint Powers Authority, the group of cities that uses San Diego’s sewage system, is the loudest critic, according to the report.

Jim Peasley, the chairman of the group, said: “They just don’t want to do what is most cost-effective for the ratepayers; that’s the bottom line.”

Lemon Grove City Councilman Jerry Jones, whose city is part of the Metro Joint Powers Authority, described the problem like this, per a previous Voice of San Diego report: “It’s not a matter of whether Pure Water has value or not; it’s a matter of who pays for it.”

San Diego originally proposed a less ambitious version of its recycled water plan, but expanded the proposal as a result of the drought, according to city officials.

“San Diego justifies its determination to expand the first phase in an odd way. Because of the drought, people are using less water, which means there’s less wastewater in the sewer system. So there’s not enough sewage in one place to recycle into 15 million gallons of drinkable water,” Voice of San Diego reported.

For similar stories visit Water Online’s Water Reuse Solutions Center.