The Scientific Technical Review Committee's conclusions will assist the mayor in making a decision about the future of the plant.
The mayor's announcement June 29 comes months ahead of a December deadline for the city to apply for a waiver to continue the current advanced primary treatment process or, conversely, to upgrade the plant with an expensive secondary treatment process.
The upgrade could cost between $1 billion and $1.5 billion, according to Timothy Bertch, director of the San Diego Metropolitan Wastewater Department.
The committee will spend the summer looking at ocean data to determine the impact that the discharge, called effluent, has on the ocean environment. Committee members will report their conclusions to the city in the fall, Bertch said.
Bertch said the data collected from the area over the past 20 years indicates there is no significant effect on the surrounding environment.
He added, however: "It is our goal, prior to this waiver submission, to have an independent review from some of the leading scientists in the field to see if they support that conclusion."
All of the sampling and data collection will be done by the Metropolitan Wastewater Department. The department has two vessels it uses for daily sample gathering and monitoring, Bertch said.
The panel will study data taken from samples of the ocean bottom, water column samples, surface and marine life samples, he said.
Paul Linden, Blasker professor of environmental science and engineering at UCSD, leads the review committee made up of specialists in fields such as microbiology, oceanography, kelp ecology and public health.
The six-member committee will look strictly at the ocean science, Linden said. The team will not report on the political or economic factors involved in the possible pursuit of a waiver, Linden said.
"Our job is to provide an objective look at the data to provide the scientific input the mayor needs," Linden said.
Linden said it's too early to tell what may be found. The panel was slated to begin work Monday and will report its findings and recommendations in October, according to a statement from the mayor's office.
The mayor is scheduled to present his recommendation to the full City Council in November. Should the mayor and City Council adopt a plan to seek a waiver, the city has until Dec. 17 to submit the application.
The public will have an opportunity to comment and weigh in at that time. In November 1995 and September 2002, the city obtained waivers exempting the plant from secondary treatment requirements of the Clean Water Act, according to the city's Web site. The waiver is valid for five years.
Currently, the Point Loma wastewater facility cleans the effluent using an advanced primary treatment process, which removes about 80 percent of suspended solids before discharge into the ocean.
Built in 1963, the plant treats about 175 million gallons of waste-water per day, which is dispersed about 320 feet below the ocean surface through Y-shaped diffusers to "ensure widespread dispersal" according to the city's Web site.