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.