Nov 01, 2007

Attempt at Water Recycling Approved

San Diego inched closer to embracing a controversial water recycling program after a City Council vote yesterday, but Mayor Jerry Sanders immediately promised to put a stop to it.

The council voted 5-2 to initiate a pilot program to purify sewage water and deliver it to residents for general use. The action came after the council was briefed on a long-awaited water reuse report.

The city already uses treated water for activities such as landscaping. Sanders, however, opposes allowing people to use the water more directly for such things as drinking and bathing. He threatened to veto the vote yesterday by the council.

The city has taken baby steps on water reuse before. A test in 2005 showed that purified water “easily” met drinking water standards.

The results have not convinced detractors, who call the proposal “toilet to tap.” Supporters call the plan, which has lingered in San Diego for more than a decade, “reservoir augmentation.”

Proponents say the plan could help to solve the city's water woes, which include expensive purchases of supplies from outside the region and increased vulnerability to droughts. Opponents say the water could be unsafe to drink and that cleansing it is too expensive.

Jim Barrett, the city's Water Department director, warned that such a project could cost up to $10 million, money that he does not have in his budget.

He said ratepayers would bear the expense, but Frye said the costs could be offset by grants or loans.

Sanders did not consider funding such a program when he secured a water rate increase this year. Barrett also said it would be nearly impossible to begin the project in 2008 because his department has yet to design or plan it.

The council's action calls for the mayor to launch a one-year pilot program by June and study the implications of proposals to boost the city's water supply. The council also wants a status report by January and for the mayor to begin a series of community forums on the topic that same month.