News Feature | July 25, 2016

Sewage Is Now A Commodity Cities Fight Over

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Two California cities are at odds over who gets to control a big bunch of sewage.

The tension between Coronado and Imperial Bay, two cities in San Diego County, centers on a decision by the U.S. Navy to select a manager for its sewage output at a campus in California. Coronado says it should get the chance to manage the sewage, since the Navy complex is located within its borders, but Imperial Bay was selected for the deal, according to Voice of San Diego.

The conflict shows that sewage has become a “valuable commodity,” according to the report, since treated wastewater is increasingly reused. Indirect potable reuse programs are already popular in California, and water regulators took steps in June to cut red tape around this practice.

At certain points, the conflict has gotten pretty tense. The San Diego Reader reported in January: “Imperial Beach has accused Coronado of jeopardizing the War on Terror by suing Imperial Beach over who has the right to provide sewage services to the new Navy SEAL training facility proposed for the south end of Silver Strand.”

The Navy facility will eventually generate about 200,000 gallons per day of sewage, Voice of San Diego reported. Both cities see the potential to profit from it.

That’s why Coronado is waging a lawsuit over the issue, arguing that the deal is a “direct affront to Coronado’s municipal sovereignty,” Voice of San Diego reported, citing the suit. Lawyers for Coronado argue that the city “should get first dibs on providing sewer service to the Navy. Other Navy installations on Coronado send their sewage to Coronado, so why not this new one?” Voice of San Diego reported.

Coronado is worried sewage management could wind up privatized and adversely impact its interests, the report said.

“Coronado officials worry that a private water company is going to buy Imperial Beach’s sewage system and then gain access to and profit from the Navy’s sewage. A privatized sewage system in Imperial Beach could thwart a years-long effort by Coronado to bring down its own water costs,” the report said. “The company, California American Water, currently provides drinking water to all of Coronado and Imperial Beach.”

Andy Hall, city manager for Imperial Beach, told Voice of San Diego that privatization talks are informal, and that city voters would have to weigh in on a sale.

“If Cal American bought Imperial Beach’s sewage system, it could build a sewage recycling plant, treat the water, then sell the recycled water to parks or golf courses in Imperial Beach and Coronado,” the report said.
Cal American would need to update its infrastructure before it could recycle the wastewater.

To read more about water recycling visit Water Online’s Water Reuse Solutions Center.