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Not called "toilet-to-tap"!

Nasty name shed, unanimous vote moves Pure Water plan forward

The San Diego City Council on Tuesday, November 18, unanimously voted to move forward with the implementation of Pure Water San Diego, a 20-year plan that could result in a significant portion of the region's water supply sourced from a local wastewater-recycling program.

Already approved by the San Diego Metro Wastewater Joint Powers Authority, a collection of seven cities and several county water districts that compose about a third of the region's total wastewater generation, the plan hinges on a three-pronged approach, with the heavy lifting to be taken on by the City of San Diego.

First, the city will apply for a new pollutant discharge permit for the Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant, which pumps up to 240 million gallons of partially treated sewage into the ocean daily. Although required by the federal Clean Water Act to use "best available technology" to further filter water before its discharge, the Point Loma facility, opened in 1963, has been operating on waivers since 1995. The second, and current, extension of that alternate permit expires in 2015.

The city will then implement a process of pumping treated wastewater from Point Loma to an existing reclamation plant currently used to produce non-drinkable water for irrigation use, then to a further advanced purification facility before it's blended back into the city's potable water supply. A pilot project to test the feasibility of such a process was approved in 2010, and has been in operation for several years.

Halla Razak, representing the city's public utilities division, said the program aims to produce 15 million gallons of clean water daily by 2023, with capacity doubling to 30 million gallons by 2027 and eventually reaching 83 million gallons daily by 2035.

Officials hope that a successful water-recycling program would be funded in part by the state's recently passed Proposition 1, which earmarks funds for recycling facilities. It also hinges on a major caveat — an amendment to the Clean Water Act establishing "secondary treatment equivalency," allowing the Point Loma plant to continue operating without requiring billions of dollars in filtration upgrades.

The attempt to avoid installing secondary treatment was a common gripe among the handful of residents who attended the meeting to voice complaints.

"San Diego is the last major American city dumping under-treated sewage, and we shouldn't continue to dump billions more gallons under a perpetual waiver to Clean Water Act standards," argued Scott Andrews.

Others expressed concern over the city's image with tourists should it adopt what detractors call a "toilet-to-tap" system, or suggested that desalination plants, such as a massive facility currently under construction in Carlsbad, would be a more palatable local water source.

Still, the bulk of those in attendance expressed support for the measures, including San Diego Coastkeeper, the Surfrider Foundation, the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, and the Building Industry Association of San Diego County, all of whom sent representatives to the podium.

"This is a tremendous development, and one I'd certainly love to see more of," council president Todd Gloria told the audience, acknowledging the rare level of cooperation between environmental and business interests. After closing comments, a 7-0 vote was taken in favor of the plan.

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The San Diego City Council on Tuesday, November 18, unanimously voted to move forward with the implementation of Pure Water San Diego, a 20-year plan that could result in a significant portion of the region's water supply sourced from a local wastewater-recycling program.

Already approved by the San Diego Metro Wastewater Joint Powers Authority, a collection of seven cities and several county water districts that compose about a third of the region's total wastewater generation, the plan hinges on a three-pronged approach, with the heavy lifting to be taken on by the City of San Diego.

First, the city will apply for a new pollutant discharge permit for the Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant, which pumps up to 240 million gallons of partially treated sewage into the ocean daily. Although required by the federal Clean Water Act to use "best available technology" to further filter water before its discharge, the Point Loma facility, opened in 1963, has been operating on waivers since 1995. The second, and current, extension of that alternate permit expires in 2015.

The city will then implement a process of pumping treated wastewater from Point Loma to an existing reclamation plant currently used to produce non-drinkable water for irrigation use, then to a further advanced purification facility before it's blended back into the city's potable water supply. A pilot project to test the feasibility of such a process was approved in 2010, and has been in operation for several years.

Halla Razak, representing the city's public utilities division, said the program aims to produce 15 million gallons of clean water daily by 2023, with capacity doubling to 30 million gallons by 2027 and eventually reaching 83 million gallons daily by 2035.

Officials hope that a successful water-recycling program would be funded in part by the state's recently passed Proposition 1, which earmarks funds for recycling facilities. It also hinges on a major caveat — an amendment to the Clean Water Act establishing "secondary treatment equivalency," allowing the Point Loma plant to continue operating without requiring billions of dollars in filtration upgrades.

The attempt to avoid installing secondary treatment was a common gripe among the handful of residents who attended the meeting to voice complaints.

"San Diego is the last major American city dumping under-treated sewage, and we shouldn't continue to dump billions more gallons under a perpetual waiver to Clean Water Act standards," argued Scott Andrews.

Others expressed concern over the city's image with tourists should it adopt what detractors call a "toilet-to-tap" system, or suggested that desalination plants, such as a massive facility currently under construction in Carlsbad, would be a more palatable local water source.

Still, the bulk of those in attendance expressed support for the measures, including San Diego Coastkeeper, the Surfrider Foundation, the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, and the Building Industry Association of San Diego County, all of whom sent representatives to the podium.

"This is a tremendous development, and one I'd certainly love to see more of," council president Todd Gloria told the audience, acknowledging the rare level of cooperation between environmental and business interests. After closing comments, a 7-0 vote was taken in favor of the plan.

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Comments
10

As described, this is a highly "iffy" proposition, requiring many waivers and grants and . . . I've always liked the notion of stretching our local water supply by using the water twice. And while I fully understand that sewage can be purified to remove all the nasty organic stuff leaving pure sparkling water, the notion of drinking it again still doesn't appeal. My idea was to use it for irrigation and/or some other industrial uses on the second pass. As it is, this purification cannot remove salt or dissolved heavy metals from the water, and endlessly circulating it could make those impurities a public health problem.

But there's a bigger objection. What if the purification plant breaks down and dumps water that is only partially purified into the drinking water supply? Never happen? Does the track record of local government make you feel all that reassured? The city of San Diego has the worst record as far as breakdowns of municipal services despite constantly telling the voters that their failures cannot happen. Years ago, their primary sewage treatment plants and pump stations were constantly going offline and dumping millions of gallons of raw sewage into streams that flow into the sea. Beaches were closed for weeks until the bacteria levels reached those deemed "safe." No, I don't trust that city to run anything flawlessly, and that is what a successful water recycling program demands.

Nov. 19, 2014

We do not have any choices, recycling water or water desalination. Those are are choices and they are very good ones for this city.

Nov. 19, 2014

No thanks to blinkered self-interested "rare" bedfellows like Surfrider and the Chamber of Commerce. It will always be Toilet-to-Tap to me and it should only be used for irrigation purposes -- never for drinking. Visduh has it dead-right, as indeed we will all wish we were, should we inadvertently drink partially-purified water after the inevitable municipal purification plant malfunction.

Nov. 19, 2014

No thanks to blinkered self-interested "rare" bedfellows like Surfrider and the Chamber of Commerce. It will always be Toilet-to-Tap to me and it should only be used for irrigation purposes -- never for drinking. Visduh has it dead-right, as indeed we will all wish we were, should we inadvertently drink partially-purified water after the inevitable municipal purification plant malfunction.

Nov. 19, 2014

Drink bottled water if concerned. Very little of our water is consumed by drinking.

Nov. 19, 2014

And then it's only the poor who drink it.

Nov. 19, 2014

The science is good, and the costs are high. The real question is, will the powerful of the city use it exclusively and not buy bottled?

Nov. 19, 2014

Lets make sure that all city buildings are furnished with toilet to tap and that no bottled water be allowed. Be sure that all city council members and staff have T2T water to drink at meetings. Also, make sure that all La Jolla residents and businesses are supplied first with T2T.

Nov. 20, 2014

If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, it is still a duck...no matter what you want to call it. The City is spending a lot of money playing a PR marketing game to change the image of what it is doing. However, I regret to say that nothing is this article makes me gives me a warm fuzzy trusting feeling that the public's well-fair is being properly taken care of. Perhaps it is time, for those utilities employing such toilet-to-tap "recycled water," to declare their "potable" water as "not safe to drink -- drink at your own risk". Notify the consumers, who are directly impacted and to require such processes to be revealed when property gets purchased within the sphere of influence of such water treatment schemes. It is no longer adequate to say that some sort of source water meets USEPA or CA drinking water regulations -- those "standards" are merely the bare minimum and omit a lot! Furthermore, you can not test for harmful substances if you don't know what constituents to test for, to begin with. We certainly don't know everything. Wouldn't it be better to error on the side of caution? Viruses mutate, chemicals degrade and recombine in ways that aren't even currently being looked for. Consequently, it could take years for say a type of carcinogen/pathogen to clinically manifest itself within a given population group, while continuously being consumed by the public. I am sure that the "solution" presented is one of the least expensive but certainly not the best from a public health perspective

Nov. 20, 2014

Elizabeth Van Pelt is absolutely correct. That Colorado River water that we get is not something pristine and from mountain snowmelt, fresh-tasting and clear. (Ever seen the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon or in the area around Moab, Utah? It is muddy, a red-brown shade, and you would not want to drink it. But it gets worse in that water is diverted all along the way, used, and then much of it migrates back into the stream. Some pundits refer to the Colorado River as a huge open sewer. Well, it's not that bad folks, but the water we get from it has to be treated and allowed to settle, and is partially recycled already. Then there's the matter of all the dissolved minerals carried by that river. It's not a pretty picture now, and will not get better under this plan.

Nov. 20, 2014

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