SAN DIEGO (AP) — San Diego is joining other California cities in taking a closer look at an idea that was dismissed just a few years ago — recycling wastewater for drinking.
As the state endures a severe drought, the San Diego City Council was expected to vote Tuesday to advance a plan to produce 83 million gallons of recycled water a day by 2035 — an estimated one-third of the city’s water supply.READ MORE: Many Californians May Be Underinsured For Upcoming Storm
The plan enjoys broad support from Mayor Kevin Faulconer, major environmental groups and others.
The Orange County Water District, which serves 2.4 million people in California, has recycled wastewater for drinking since 2008 and intends to boost production next year from 70 million gallons to 100 million gallons a day.
The Santa Clara Valley Water District, which serves 1.8 million people in the San Francisco Bay area, decided in September to pursue construction of facilities that it says could lead to turning wastewater into drinking water for Sunnyvale and western Santa Clara County.
Still, it remains rare to turn sewage to drinking water. The WateReuse Association, a group of agencies behind the efforts, counts only 10 projects nationwide, including El Paso, Texas, and Fairfax County, Virginia. Two Texas cities, Wichita Falls and Big Spring, started projects within the past two years.
The cost of such undertakings approaches the cost of seawater desalination — another expensive idea that has gained interest during the drought.
The wastewater idea, sometimes known as toilet-to-tap, has also suffered an image problem that industry insiders call “the yuk factor.”READ MORE: Parts Of Nevada County May Be Evacuated Due To Storms
San Diego, a city of 1.4 million people that imports 85 percent of its water from the Colorado River and Northern California, has slowly warmed to the idea. A 2012 survey by the San Diego County Water Authority showed that nearly three of four residents favored turning wastewater into drinking water, up from one of four in a 2005 survey.
“The drought puts a finer point (on) why this is so necessary,” Faulconer said. “Droughts are unfortunately a way of life in California, so we have to be prepared. This helps us to control our own destiny.”
The hand of the city has been somewhat forced partly because its main treatment plant fails to meet federal standards for dumping wastewater into the ocean. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has granted a waiver every five years since 1995, with the latest one set to expire in July.
The City Council will decide whether to ratify an agreement between the mayor and four environmental groups — San Diego Coastkeeper, Surfrider Foundation, Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation and San Diego Audubon Society — to ask the EPA for another reprieve and to commit to the recycled wastewater plan.
Ken Weinberg, director of water resources at the San Diego County Water Authority, said five or six agencies in the region are pursuing smaller projects. He said recycled water was a hot topic at a national water treatment conference this year.
“It was standing-room only,” he said. “It was what everyone wanted to hear about.”MORE NEWS: Sacramento Police Put Out Traffic Alert Ahead of Ironman
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