The Thirsty San Diegan's Guide to New Water Projects - Voice of San Diego

California Drought

The Thirsty San Diegan's Guide to New Water Projects

City, county and state leaders are thinking big-picture when it comes to our water crisis. Here’s a rundown of some major projects and funding in the works to improve water infrastructure.

“Diversify” has become San Diego’s regional battle cry in tackling our water woes.

Nearly 80 percent of our water comes from non-local sources, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that won’t be sustainable much longer. We’re using less water, sure, but the need to think big-picture remains. Some major water infrastructure projects coming together try to do just that.

The bottom line: The journey your water travels as it makes its way to your home and workplace could look very different down the road. Here’s a rundown of the water projects planned for San Diego in the coming decades.

Pure Water San Diego

Pure Water San Diego is the city’s 20-year comprehensive plan to develop its own local source of drinking water. Some key components: building water purification facilities, further research on how to yank out a middleman step in the process, outreach and development of future legislation.

It’ll use a three-step purification process, which the city tried out in a demo phase between 2009 and 2013. This is what’s called indirect potable reuse, and it includes an environmental buffer: Wastewater from homes and businesses would be purified at a facility, then directed to the San Vicente Reservoir about 25 miles northeast of San Diego before making its way to a drinking water treatment plant.

According to the city’s public utilities department, more than 9,000 tests during the demo phase found no contaminants in water that went through that process, and the purified water “met all federal and state drinking water standards.”

The city still has some studying to do on the feasibility of the alternative, known as direct potable reuse. That’s where purified wastewater would go directly to treatment at a drinking water plant, skipping the reservoir altogether.

The Pure Water plan, which just got the endorsement of regional research group Equinox Center, shoots to generate 15 million gallons of purified water by 2023, and 83 million gallons per day by 2035. That’d be about 30 percent of our drinking water supply coming from recycled sources, which totally doesn’t gross out 73 percent of you:

We get it. The idea of drinking pee is gross. But we’ll actually be drinking cleaner water when sewage recycling comes online. Other things have become more important than the mere thought of pee guzzling, too. [Former Mayor Jerry] Sanders, for instance, changed his position after biotech industry reps threatened to leave San Diego because of concerns over water shortages. Water shortages are scarier than irrational fears about pee.

Carlsbad Desalination Plant

Construction on the Carlsbad Desalination Plant is ahead of schedule, Jason Foster of the San Diego County Water Authority told NBC 7 last week.

The plant will be up and running by 2015, on its way toward becoming a “core water supply for our region,” as Foster put it. It’s supposed to pump out about 50 million gallons of sea-water-turned-drinking-water each day, and will prompt a slight $5 increase in ratepayers’ bills.

Here’s how NBC 7 described the project:

Organizers plan to build the desalination plant adjacent to the Encina power station along the Pacific Ocean in Carlsbad and have it fully functioning by 2016. The project has been in the making for more than 12 years.

When completed, the water produced at the plant will be conveyed to the Water Authority’s water system via an underground 10-mile, large-diameter pipeline that will travel through the cities of San Marcos, Vista and Carlsbad.

One intimidating number attached, though, is the plant’s $1 billion price tag. VOSD’s Scott Lewis explained back in 2012:

Its saving grace, however, may be the future. You see, importing our water is risky too. Global climate change and thirsty Arizonans are among the threats to our supply.

Lynn Reaser and San Diego’s Equinox Center project the cost of importing water over the next 20 years will rise 6.7 percent per year. That’s about a 50 percent faster rise than the cost of desalination.

So, taking the salt out of seawater may be an investment that pays off over time. But what do we get out of that investment now? The water authority says we get security. If we want a more reliable water future, we have to pay for it.

Proposition 1

Meanwhile, voters statewide will decide the fate of some major funding for future infrastructure projects. Proposition 1, a $7.5 billion bond, will appear on the Nov. 4 ballot. The money’s not tied to any specific projects yet, as the San Francisco Chronicle explains:

The bond was deliberately left vague so that projects would go through a public competitive grant process.

The bond’s prospects have been propped up by the state’s drought, but scientists warn the measure will not address water shortages facing the state at the moment.

“In terms of this drought, nothing in the bond will make a difference,” said Peter Gleick, a noted water expert and president of the nonpartisan think tank Pacific Institute in Oakland. “It’s all long-term funding and projects.”

Instead, the money would be allotted into pots for things like water storage ($2.7 billion) and groundwater cleanup ($900 million), and again, would be for the whole state, not just San Diego. Our region could get about 11 percent of the full amount, according to the Mission Times Courier.

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