Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009 | The on-again, off-again fight between San Diego officials and the environmental community about the pollution discharged by the city’s major sewage treatment plant is once again peaceful.
Mayor Jerry Sanders and local environmental groups reached a tentative agreement Tuesday that would trade the environmental community’s support of another waiver of Clean Water Act standards at the Point Loma plant for a thorough study of San Diego’s sewage infrastructure. The city will hire a consultant to develop strategies and options for reusing wastewater instead of dumping it in the ocean.
The plant currently treats and dumps about 175 million gallons of sewage daily into the Pacific Ocean. It operates with a permit that allows it to discharge sewage that doesn’t meet federal pollution standards, failing to remove the amount of waste required by the Clean Water Act. But an upgrade to the plant, tucked into the western bluffs near Cabrillo National Monument, could cost as much as $1.5 billion, the city estimates.
The settlement with San Diego Coastkeeper and the Surfrider Foundation commits the city to spending as much as $2 million to develop strategies for reusing sewage, decreasing the amount that gets dumped in the ocean. The settlement needs City Council approval, which could come in early February.
Those could include a wide range of options such as building smaller sewage recycling facilities throughout the city or expanding distribution infrastructure for recycled wastewater.
The agreement gives the city a united front in its pursuit of a waiver from state and federal regulators. The city has always been spared from the costly upgrade, in part because it has demonstrated that the sewage is not harming marine life offshore. But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which in December approved the city’s waiver request, said it wanted to see progress in San Diego — the last major West Coast city holding a waiver.