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San Diego
Thursday, May 30, 2024

Public Agencies Embark on Surface Water Purification Systems

San Diego reportedly has some of the most expensive water in the country.

According to data, San Diego households pay between $80 and over $100 per month for water. Elsewhere, as of 2019, the average American water bill is $70.39 per month, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

But, thanks to initiatives by the Padre Dam Municipal Water District, which services East San Diego County, and the City of San Diego Public Utilities Department, both the city and East County, and its collective residents and businesses, may be able to save on water expenses in the future.

Drinking Water Demands

The East County Advanced Water Purification (AWP) Joint Powers Authority, a collaboration of three public agencies including the City of El Cajon and the County of San Diego Sanitation District, is 10% into a multi-year drinking water project that will generate approximately 30% of the current drinking water demands – or 11.5 million gallons of drinking water per day for residents in East County.

Kyle Swanson, director of operations, said the $528 million AWP program will not only benefit East San Diego County residents, but also cover portions of unincorporated areas in the county, like Alpine, Blossom Valley, Crest and Harbison Canyon. Additionally, AWP’s water will go to a fourth partner, he said, the Helix Water District, which serves over 275,000 people in the communities of La Mesa, Lemon Grove, El Cajon, Spring Valley, Lakeside and other unincorporated areas in the county as well.

“90% of San Diego’s water is imported from Northern California and from the Colorado River system,” said Swanson. “The benefit is being able to keep the water, in our case, in East County. It is produced here, it is captured here and, instead of sending it 600 miles west to get discharged in the Pacific Ocean, it will get reused. It also provides a local, reliable, drought proof supply right here in East County that can meet 30% of the drinking water demand.”

Local Water Supply

Instead of being a groundwater system, much like the one Orange County has in the works, AWP will use a surface water resource, said Swanson. This means, after treatment, the water will be blended with water in Lake Jennings in Lakeside and treated again at the R.M. Levy Water Treatment Plant in La Mesa before being distributed as drinking water, he said.

So, in addition to providing a new local water supply, the program will eliminate the need and cost associated with sending East County’s wastewater to the City of San Diego’s Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant, where it is currently treated, and then discharged into the ocean after a one-time use.And, while tapping groundwater can be less expensive than surface water, building out the infrastructure to sustain a groundwater system could be more expensive in the long run.

Three Phase Initiative

Much like East San Diego County, the City of San Diego has also embarked on its own surface water purification program.

The Pure Water San Diego Program is a three-phase initiative that will clean recycled water to produce 30 million gallons per day of purified water, or one/third of all of the city of San Diego’s water consumption. That will then be distributed to residents in San Diego as well as the city of Del Mar. By the time the third phase of the $5 Billion to $9 Billion project is completed in 2035, according to Dylan Grise, community outreach specialist with The Pure Water San Diego Program, it will produce 83 million gallons of potable water a day.

“The big difference between us and others doing potable water reuse programs is that we will store the water in the Miramar Reservoir (also known as the Miramar Lake in the Scripps Miramar Ranch community) instead of being a groundwater replenishment,” said Grise. “It’s already attached to an entire distribution system for that service area. So, rather than build a new treatment plant or additional infrastructure, we are using the one that is already tapped into the distribution of drinking water in the city of San Diego.”

Supply Chain

Grise said the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California in Los Angeles is the wholesaler that brings the majority of the water used in San Diego from the Colorado River and the State Water Project in Northern California. Once they have it, he said, they sell it to the San Diego County Water Authority who then sells it to the utility companies, and so on and so forth.

Because of this supply chain, by the time it makes it to the residents, numerous fees have been tacked on.

“Our impetus is to become more reliant on our own water supply,” said Grise. “We go through different hands to get the water we need. And, once we treat it and use it, we discard it. But this water is ours and it is recyclable. This program will minimize the water we bring in, which will give us more control over the overall cost.”


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