Securing San Diego’s water future
By U-T San Diego Editorial Board, 11/13/14
As this page has argued many times, there is nothing more important to our future economy and quality of life in San Diego County than a plentiful and reliable supply of clean water. There is no single way to achieve that in this semiarid region that has very little water of its own and that is in the grip of a prolonged and potentially catastrophic statewide drought. Conservation, desalination, dams and reservoirs and the development of new sources of water must all be part of the mix.
One of the most important of those component parts comes before the San Diego City Council Tuesday when the council will be asked to ratify an agreement reached between Mayor Kevin Faulconer and four key environmental groups. Under that agreement, the council will commit to move forward with its $2.5 billion Pure Water Program to turn wastewater into drinking water.
In return, the environmental groups — San Diego Coastkeeper, Surfrider Foundation, Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation and the local Audubon Society — agreed to provide crucial support for the city’s application to renew, for a fourth time, its waiver from federal Environmental Protection Agency standards in order to continue operations at the Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant. Without the waiver, the city would be forced to upgrade sewage treatment systems at the plant, at a cost that was projected at $1.5 billion five years ago and that has no doubt increased substantially.
The wastewater purification process at the core of the Pure Water Program is sound science. The city developed a demonstration plant at the North City Water Reclamation Plant in 2011 that for a year produced 1 million gallons a day of purified water. The pilot project passed more than 9,000 tests, producing water similar in quality to distilled water.
The full Pure Water Program proposes to divert wastewater from the Point Loma plant to a new water purification plant on Harbor Drive, along with advanced purification systems at the North City and South Bay reclamation plants. The three systems would produce 83 million gallons per day by 2035. That would represent fully one-third of San Diego’s future drinking water needs.
It will not be cheap. But if the permit for the Point Loma plant is denied, the city will be forced to spend $2 billion and will get nothing for it. It makes far more sense to spend that money on a scientifically sound technology that would go a long way toward meeting the city’s water needs.
We expect the City Council to move forward with this project. And we urge the EPA to give speedy approval to what would be a national model.