Yes, that's right -- if you live in San Diego, your sewage will be recycled into your drinking water. But before you run away screaming "Gross!" and swear to drink only bottled water forever (not a good option), you should know more about how wastewater recycling works and what we're doing about it:
We advocate for the City of San Diego to implement potable reuse, where hyper-treated wastewater supplements our drinking water supply.
The benefits of potable reuse include:
- Providing a locally and municipally controlled source of local drinking water
- Diversifying water supply sources
- Reducing the City's reliance and vulnerability to outside sources
- Decreasing wastewater discharges to the ocean
- Providing an energy-efficient alternative to water imports and other water enhancement alternatives
- A lower overall per unit cost than water transfers
- Maximizing the City's investment by taking advantage of currently underutilized reclamation and wastewater treatment facilities (back to top)
San Diego Coastkeeper supports a diverse water supply portfolio. However, with the region's limited resources, San Diego County's immediate capital investment—and corresponding rate increases—should focus on potable reuse projects. Read more about our thoughts on potable reuse versus desalination.
The City's 2005 Water Reuse Study explored various options to maximize water reuse at the City's existing North City reclamation facility. As a result from 2007 - 2010, the San Diego City Council funded and approved several contracts for a pilot project that demonstrates that we can safely use highly treated wastewater to augment reservoirs.
In 2006, Coastkeeper attended the military's ribbon cutting for Camp Pendleton's $40 million sewage treatment plant, built as a result of a settlement with Coastkeeper. It currently treats 800,000 gallons of sewage from the base and will eventually treat and reuse all five million gallons of sewage a day on the base.
In 2008, Coastkeeper challenged the City of San Diego to fund an $11.8-million pilot project to test the use of highly-treated wastewater as drinking water. This could result in reclaiming up to 16 million gallons a day of sewage at the City's existing North City Water Reclamation Plant that would otherwise be discharged into the ocean.
In 2009, Coastkeeper and Surfrider reached a Cooperative Agreement with the City that obligated San Diego to undertake a complete assessment of its sewage infrastructure to identify opportunities to maximize water reclamation regionally. Unlike the demonstration project, which is focusing on maximizing reuse from existing infrastructure, the $2 million Recycled Water Study examined opportunities to build new reclamation facilities to expand the City's overall reuse capacity.
The Water Reuse Study outlines how the City could develop a long-term strategy to reclaim approximately 100 million gallons of sewage that is currently discharged to the Pacific Ocean every day, providing San Diego with much needed local supplies of water. In exchange for the City's commitment to undertake this study, the environmental groups agreed to not oppose a five-year waiver (expiring July 2015) from secondary treatment standards at the Point Loma Wastewater Treatment facility, believing that reducing or eliminating sewage discharges to the ocean provides the best long-term solution for San Diego's water and sewage issues.
The City of San Diego also completed a year-long demonstration project at the North City facility to demonstrate the quality of water that can be achieved with potable reuse technology. The study determined that the hyper-treated water meets all state and federal drinking water standards and actually contains fewer pollutants than the water we import. The National Academy of Sciences also issued a report examining the potential for potable reuse to safely satisfy our water needs. (back to top)
That's how many gallons of partially treated sewage from the Point Loma Treatment Facility is dumped into the ocean every day. This sewage is only treated to advanced primary levels- meaning no advanced biological or other treatment is used to reduce the amount of nutrients, bacteria and other contaminants that are present in the sewage. With a water shortage in San Diego, this is an enormous amount of water we could be recycling into drinking water with proper and thorough treatment.
The Clean Water Act requires all publicly owned sewage treatment facilities to treat their sewage to at least a minimum treatment level, known as "secondary treatment." San Diego is one of the only cities left that still has a waiver from meeting the Clean Water Act's minimum federal treatment standards. The US EPA grants the waivers for five-year periods, with the current waiver set to expire July 31, 2015. The main reason San Diego hasn't yet upgraded its plant, which is allowed discharge up to 240 million gallons a day of partially-treated sewage into the ocean, is due to the plant's location. The facility is perched on the cliffs in Point Loma, with almost no room to expand. This means that upgrading the facility to second treatment carries a hefty price tag.
(back to top)
San Diego Coastkeeper is working closely with other environmental groups, the City of San Diego and local wastewater authorities to come up with a solution that will create a new water supply while reducing the pollution we send into the ocean from our sewage treatment plant. San Diego needs a new way forward, and San Diego Coastkeeper plans to be part of the solution to our water supply and sewage pollution troubles.
In advocating for potable reuse, Coastkeeper leads an unprecedented alliance of San Diego environmental, businesses, labor, economic growth and ratepayer advocates. The Coalition was awarded a 2010 Special Recognition Award from the California WateReuse Association for its advocacy work on indirect potable reuse. (back to top)