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Water reuse moves forward in the City of San Diego!

San Diego City Council Approves Agreement with Environmental Groups Over Point Loma Sewage Treatment Exemption

City to Undertake Assessment of Sewage System to Identify Reclamation Opportunities

January 27, 2009

CONTACT: Bruce Reznik, 619-851-9997 (cell); 619-758-7743 ext. 102
Marco Gonzalez, 760-942-8505 ext. 102

On Tuesday, the San Diego City Council voted 6-1 to approve a Cooperative Agreement with San Diego Coastkeeper and Surfrider Foundation that obligates the City to undertake a comprehensive assessment of its entire sewage collection and treatment infrastructure to identify opportunities to maximize recycling and reclamation of wastewater for potable and non-potable uses. The agreement, which resulted from negotiations between the environmental groups and the offices of Mayor Sanders and City Attorney Goldsmith, had been presented in draft form to the City’s Natural Resources & Culture Committee on December 3. While Coastkeeper and Surfrider are the only environmental groups initially signing onto the agreement, other groups including Sierra Club and San Diego Audubon Society have been part of negotiations with the City and may join the agreement.

With the City’s commitment to undertake this study, the environmental groups have agreed to not oppose a final five-year waiver from secondary treatment standards at the Point Loma Wastewater Treatment facility, currently the nation’s largest sewage agency exempt from secondary standards. The United States Environmental Protection Agency and San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board held a joint hearing on the City’s waiver application on Wednesday, January 21, with a final decision by these agencies expected in March. The U.S. EPA issued a tentative ruling in support of the waiver application on December 4, indicating at that time that the City should not expect future exemptions. The two environmental groups had sued over approval of the last exemption in 2002.

“A comprehensive assessment of reclamation opportunities that will reduce or even potentially eliminate sewage discharges to the ocean provides the best long-term solution for San Diego’s water and sewage issues,” noted Coastkeeper’s Executive Director Bruce Reznik. “Since the last waiver was granted there is a growing body of evidence that even secondary sewage treatment may not be sufficient to protect of ocean environment; meanwhile San Diego now faces worsening water shortages.”
The San Diego region imports nearly 90% of its water, primarily from the Colorado River and the San Joaquin Delta. The region is experiencing a growing water crisis as imports these sources are declining due to overconsumption, climate change and legal decisions, while the San Diego region is in an eight-year drought that has reduced even the little local water the region usually relies on.

The new study will examine opportunities to build new reclamation facilities to expand the City’s overall reuse capacity. If successful, the City could identify a long-term strategy to reclaim some or even all of the 180+ million gallons of wastewater that is currently discharged to the Pacific via the Point Loma facility, providing San Diego with much needed local supplies of water while reducing sewage discharges that threaten our ocean environment.

According to Marco Gonzalez of Coast Law Group, which represents Coastkeeper and Surfrider on this issue, “In the past, the environmental community could have been accused of a charge we sometimes make against the City – being reactive rather than visionary in terms of our environmental policy. We are proud to be looking forward towards a solution that could alter the region’s water policy for decades to come.”

This study, which will be undertaken by the City with oversight of an expert appointed by the environmental community and peer reviewed by national wastewater experts, is intended to build upon the work of the City’s 2005 Water Reuse Study. That study, which was undertaken as part of the legal settlement resulting from the 2002 waiver, explored six alternatives to maximize the reuse of wastewater treated at the City’s two existing reclamation facilities and provided the impetus for the pilot Indirect Potable Reuse (IPR) project the City is currently undertaking that could result in the beneficial reuse of up to 16 million gallons of highly treated wastewater every day. “We are pleased to have reached this agreement with the City that allows us to be able to move forward cooperatively on this critically important issue.” added Reznik.

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