EPA mulls waiver for secondary wastewater treatment plans
by SEBASTIAN RUIZ
Dec 23, 2008 | 953 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
With local experts and politicos claiming the city imports too much water, treating and reusing sewer water for irrigation — or even drinking — takes on a new meaning.

Meanwhile, the Federal Environmental Protection Agency is verging on granting the city another five-year pass in upgrading its sewage treatment processes to the next level of cleanliness, called secondary treatment.

At least one local environmental group has met with the mayor and city staff in an effort to tackle the problem of rethinking the city’s water and wastewater infrastructure.

“We’re trying to reach an agreement [with the city] over the next month or so … to really lay the groundwork for long-term planning for our sewage and water infrastructure in San Diego,” San Diego Coastkeeper executive director Bruce Reznick said.

The city applies for a permit every five years, allowing the city to empty treated sewage about four miles off the Point Loma coast. San Diego is one of the last big cities to keep applying for the waiver, Reznick said. This is the third waiver the city has applied for since 1995.

A public comment process for the waiver will continue over the next several months, requiring approvals from agencies such as the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board and the California Coastal Commission. The first public hearing takes place Wednesday, Jan. 21 at the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board offices, 9174 Sky Park Court, at 9 a.m.

Environmental groups such as Coastkeeper have traditionally opposed the city’s application for the waiver.

They sued the city in 2000 because of it, Reznick said. The suit partly resulted in a water recycling report to the city, released in 2005.

Though another lawsuit is “not off the table,” Reznick said, now is the time to work with the city “hand in hand” to plan for future water recycling. He added that he needs a more comprehensive study of the city’s water infrastructure.

Environmental groups have advocated for an upgrade to cleaner treatment processes at the Point Loma wastewater treatment facility for environmental reasons. However, mayoral spokesman Bill Harris said upgrading to secondary treatment processes would cost too much and does too little for the environment.

“There are options that do not involve spending $1.5 billion that have to be raised in fees to cram a facility into Point Loma in order to achieve very little additional benefit. It’s excruciatingly costly, almost physically impossible to construct and provides very little additional benefit to what we’re currently doing,” Harris said.

Mayor Jerry Sanders is making good on his announcement to apply for the Point Loma waste-water secondary treatment waiver. He announced the decision last year after he gathered a team of UCSD scientists to study the environmental impacts of the treated wastewater on the ocean. While the report stated that more data are needed to fully understand the environmental impact, the Point Loma sewage outfall presents no significant impact to the ocean environment.

Reznick said the dearth of accurate assessments of environmental impacts is part of the problem.

“I don’t think we have that data,” Reznick said, “but there is a lot of information that is required for [determining] overall ocean health.”

The public comment period for the waiver closes Jan. 28.

The Point Loma wastewater treatment plant treats about 175 million gallons a day of the city’s sewage, according to the city’s website.
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