Roseline Feral: "Residents of Clairemont are tired of being the dumping ground."
  • Roseline Feral: "Residents of Clairemont are tired of being the dumping ground."
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Tuesday was a big day for water projects in Southern California. The Metropolitan Water District's board of directors authorized $10.8 billion toward Governor Jerry Brown's effort to fix the state's aging water delivery system, one his own father pioneered as governor in the 1960s. A little closer to home, the city council unanimously voted to move forward the $1.1-$1.3 billion Pure Water project by certifying environmental documentation analyzing project impacts.

Barbara Bry: "Well, that was like in a different language than English."

The loud roar that once opposed "toilet to tap" has turned into strong support for Pure Water with the caveat of University City, Clairemont, and Scripps Ranch residents regarding the 11-mile route the project's underground pipeline takes that will travel from the Morena Pump Station to the North City Pure Water Facility. They believe the city too quickly dismissed alternative routes.

Keli Balo: "We could not find another alternative that reduced the impacts even further."

Several councilmembers agreed and chastised city staff. Grand apologies to constituents followed. Some expressed feeling trapped into voting yes because any delays could put project funding at risk. Delays could result in the city having to spend $2 billion upgrading the Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant.

"Don't dismiss our concerns as NIMBY."

The city has gotten waivers since 1995 with the latest one expiring in 2022, the same year the first phase of Pure Water is set to go online. The key justification for the last waiver in 2017 was Pure Water's promise to recycle some of the 160 million gallons currently being dumped into the ocean daily from the Point Loma plant.

"We have people living near where this alignments going to go that haven't slept for two years over the trolley construction and the expansion of Westfield."

Councilmember Mark Kersey asked if there was any way to approve the environmental document and look at route alternatives later. The city attorney's office advised against this saying it would leave the city legally vulnerable.

Residents along the chosen route (red) believe the routes they suggested (yellow, green, and purple) were too quickly dismissed.

City staff told Kersey it would take 18 months to re-circulate the environmental impact report with alternative routes due to required rigorous studying and testing.

"It's very clear to me that we did not fully study some of the alternatives that were presented today [by the public]," said Councilmember David Alvarez. "And so, that alone puts me in an uncomfortable position."

While it's believable that Alvarez may not have had a heads-up (project doesn't go through his district), it's harder to fathom how the five councilmember's whose districts (1, 2, 5, 6, 7) this project runs through were caught unaware.

Councilmembers called out city staff for not doing their due diligence with community outreach. This is ironic considering Pure Water won an award in 2017 for public outreach from American Planning Association.

At the April 10 hearing, Keli Balo, Pure Water project manager, said "We looked closely at the suggested alternatives and did not carry them forward in the [environmental documentation] as project alternatives as they are infeasible or would not substantially lessen the significant environmental impacts of the project."

Belo pointed out that some routes would merely transfer the same impacts to other areas, and in some cases result in more significant challenges or impacts.

The chosen route starts from the Morena Pump Station in Bay Park and winds through main thoroughfares in Clairemont and University City before reaching the Pure Water facility.

Some asked how the city can deem a route infeasible if they haven't studied it fully. Alternative routes are the SDG&E route where existing natural gas and electrical lines run (SDG&E opposes), the interstate along Route 52 and Interstate 805, and a detour that avoids University City altogether and stays in Clairemont. Balo stated Caltrans policies and procedures prohibited the interstate option.

Councilmember Lorie Zapf asked if anyone had bothered to call state representatives to ask for help in dealing with Caltrans. John Helminski from public utilities admitted they had not.

Another major concern is the construction fatigue of adding another huge construction project to areas already overburdened with big public works projects like the trolley. Construction concerns include impacts to traffic, air quality, noise, and scheduling. One University City resident stating, "All our public projects are a year or longer overdue."

The city has promised no full road closures during construction.

Some residents said the city council had already made up their mind before the hearing. Mayor Faulconer introducing the item bolstered that feeling for some.

It's no secret that Councilmember Chris Cate has been an advocate for Pure Water, having lobbied the city in 2013 as he was fundraising for his own run at a city council seat. One Clairemont resident said Cate should have recused himself from voting.

During public testimony, six city councilmember's left the room at some point. Kersey missed eight speakers opposing the alignment, Cate missed seven, Zapf missed four (only one was a resident), and Councilmember Chris Ward missed six (project doesn't go through his district).

During public testimony, some residents spoke about the aftermath of the pipeline's installation with concerns about noxious gases, foul odors, and the possibility of Armageddon via sewage leaks or geysers.

To this, Zapf replied, "I mean people [are] making it sound like there's going to be rivers of sewage if something goes wrong where really there's quick shutoff valves. That somehow it's the same as incinerating astronauts in space and there will be a loss of life if something breaks. To those people, I might say you don't have the idea or the facts that underneath right now, all over the city, there's fuel pipelines, natural gas pipelines, electrical. There's a lot of stuff running around our city. So one minute of sewage flowing out isn't good, but I don't see rivers or a loss of life happening there."

Last fall, Clairemont and University City experienced major water pipe failure. A pressurized pipe failure on Morena Boulevard in Clairemont ejected several million gallons of water. Residents are horrified at the thought of that water having been sewage. North Park, Mission Valley, and Ocean Beach have all had water main breaks since then. Earlier in 2017, Little Italy, University City, and North Park had water main breaks. Because of this, many have requested a steel or concrete sleeve around the pipeline.

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Julie Stalmer April 16, 2018 @ 8:30 p.m.

Louis, that is a good point. Constituents are very concerned about a high pressure line being so close to the surface. This was a huge objection that seemed to have been lost on the powers that be. The concrete/steel sleeve got a bit more attention but it didn't seem like that is in the cards because of cost. I haven't heard a rationale for not doing it that has made sense yet.


clash84 April 17, 2018 @ 6:52 a.m.

If their intended route is Clairemont Drive, in addition to residences that sit directly on that street, it will be in close proximity to an elementary school, middle school, park, public swimming pool, YMCA skate park, and several churches. The parking situation is already so tight outside the large Coral Bay apartment complex, it overflows into the nearby neighborhoods. No doubt the construction work will compound the situation.


Julie Stalmer April 19, 2018 @ 7:53 a.m.

It looks like a good part of it is in Bay Park and Clairemont and if University City get's it's way, all of it would remain in Clairemont (they detour on the map).


AlexClarke April 17, 2018 @ 4:34 p.m.

Zapf replied " ... there's quick shutoff valves." Are these the same shutoff valves that the water departments use to shut off the water when a water line breaks where the water runs for hours? Or are these the same quick shutoff valves that the fire department can never seem to find when a fire hydrant gets knocked over?


Julie Stalmer April 19, 2018 @ 7:55 a.m.

They said they are automatic when the pressure changes within the pipes, no human intervention is needed said the city. I'm not sure why a protective sleeve isn't included in the design, well, the cost is the reason I guess.


louisrodolico May 1, 2018 @ 10:15 p.m.

I am all for the pure water project but we need to mitigate the risks associated with high pressure raw sewage.


louisrodolico May 1, 2018 @ 10:17 p.m.

The high pressure raw sewage line should be in a service tunnel if it is in an urban or sensitive environment. A service tunnel would; 1) Contain any leakage so that it can flow to a collection point and then to the city sewer, see illustration 2) When there is a catastrophic failure the tunnel contains air so that would greatly diminish the force upward and outward. 3) Would provide a method of repair, usually welding, that does not involve digging up streets. 4) The plan is to vent sewer gas at the dozen high points in the pipe, this gas will end up above the street. The air in the tunnel could be used as the conduit for this exhaust air so there will be no need to vent into our neighborhoods, but the tunnel must be uninterrupted for its full 11 mile length.



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