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San Diego's Public Utilities Department and the purchasing department have gone rogue when buying the chemicals needed to treat water and wastewater.

A new audit from City Auditor's office has found that the departments failed to get the City Attorney's Office to sign off on millions of dollars worth of purchases and ignored state law by not having the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department inspect water and wastewater facilities for fire hazards.

According to the audit dated November 23, the City spends approximately $48 million on chemicals to treat water and decontaminate wastewater. However, the vast majority of those purchases are done without examining the fluctuation of prices for chemicals.

"During our review, we found that the City may realize potential savings on the $16 million it spends on a yearly basis on chemical purchases by adopting certain market strategies, such as, reverse auction in purchasing bulk chemicals for the treatment of water and wastewater," reads the Audit.

"[Purchasing and Contracting Department] periodically tracks information on chemical prices and availability over time but do not conduct regular meetings to share and discuss issues related to chemical supply availability, changes in prices, and alternative chemical uses."

The auditor recommends the implementation of "reverse auctioning," an online bidding process to assure that the lowest bidder is always the chose vendor.

And then there's the failure by some at the City department to make sure the fire department is doing its job, inspecting all facilities with chemicals in store.

"...during our review, we found that the San Diego Fire- Rescue Department (SDFD) did not conduct regular inspections of the water and waste water facilities as mandated by State law due to lack of staffing. Because annual inspections performed correctly decrease the risk of fires, it is important that the SDFD develop a systematic approach to comply with this requirement."

As for their response, city officials agree with some of the suggestions and claim that some of the recommendations, such as reverse auctioning have already been put in place.

Other money-saving recommendations, such as one that calls for better tracking and sharing of information on chemical prices, were not so well received.

"The departments do not feel it is necessary to establish formal policies and prooedures for researching and sharing information on this commodity," read the response from department directors Ed Plank, Chief Mainar, and Roger Bailey.


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