Which San Diego politicians really support water recycling?

by on July 2, 2010 · 5 comments

in Culture, Energy, Environment, History, San Diego

recycled water san diego

Purple pipes of recycled water.

By George J. Janczyn/ Groksurf / July 1, 2010

San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders just yesterday announced a new recycled water hookup with Canyonside Park for landscaping irrigation (see video of announcement).

In his speech, Mayor Sanders proclaimed:

Finding more uses for recycled water is an important way to maximize resources.”

Councilmember Sherri Lightner also spoke, saying:

“I have always and will continue to support the expansion of recycled water in San Diego as a smart reuse of water and as a water conservation measure.”

Was this really a sign of wholehearted support for water reuse, or was it just lip service?

That item should hardly be making the news. It belatedly brings the City a little closer to compliance with a 1989 City ordinance mandating the widespread use of recycled water. It’s a good, but modest project using only 13 million gallons of recycled water per year.

On the other hand, a few Councilmembers (probably with the Mayor’s secret blessings) actively resist implementation of a water reuse project that could produce an additional 16 million gallons of potable water per day, a project that was approved by the full Council years ago.

Quick history:

  • On October 29, 2007, after considerable debate and public discussion, the City Council voted to approve the Indirect Potable Reuse Demonstration Project.
  • On November 14, 2007, Mayor Sanders vetoed the resolution.
  • In May 2009, the Public Utilities Department issued a Request for Proposals for Project Management and Public Outreach for the project.
  • On Jan. 26, 2010, the San Diego City Council directed the Mayor to execute “an Agreement between the City of San Diego and RMC Water and Environment, to perform the Project Management and Public Outreach for the Demonstration Project.

In summary: the City got so far as to approve the Indirect Potable Reuse Reservoir Augmentation Demonstration Project (aka Water Purification Demonstration Project), then approved a contract for project management and public outreach, and the next step was to approve a contract to build the facility to treat the water. How did that go?

Two weeks ago, at the June 16 Natural Resources and Culture Committee meeting, the contract to build the facility was blocked from going to the full Council because Councilmembers Sherri Lightner and Carl DeMaio still had objections to the basic premise of the project and they forced a continuation of the matter saying they needed answers to more questions.

On July 1st, the Natural Resources and Culture Committee held a special followup meeting to address those questions.

Lightner, for all her earlier interest in continuing the matter so that her questions could be answered, didn’t even show up for the meeting. That left DeMaio. Marti Emerald quickly made the motion to recommend council approval (Donna Frye obviously would vote yes). DeMaio didn’t bother asking questions and only reiterated that he remains steadfastly opposed to the project and would not vote for the committee to recommend approval of the contract. So the vote was taken and that’s how the matter will be sent to the Council.

We’re obviously dealing with foot-dragging by disgruntled politicians intent on hindering an already-approved project.

Please, it’s time to move on.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar bodysurferbob July 2, 2010 at 3:13 pm

thanks groksurf for keeping all of us up on these water issues. i’ve been trying to get my land friends cognizant of this important area of public policy and public treasure and public crisis. this will help. somebody has to yank people’s heads out of the sand, and while you’ll provide the brains, i’ll provide the muscle. figuratively speaking of course.


avatar Andy Cohen July 2, 2010 at 6:23 pm


Any idea what Lightner and DeMaio’s “questions” are? I’d be curious to know what their actual issues with the project are, or if they’re merely stonewalling.

At any rate, I can kind of understand people’s hesitance on the plan. It’s going to be very difficult to get past the “Toilet to Tap” label that this idea has been tagged with. Intellectually, I understand that the water has been completely purified and is perfectly safe to consume, but there’s always that little voice in the back of your mind….

At some point we’re all going to have to get over it and accept that this is a legitimate, viable solution to the severe water shortage we’re faced with. And our problems with water are likely to get worse. We’re going to need all hands on deck for this, and that includes the proposed desalination plant in Carlsbad.


avatar George (GrokSurf) July 3, 2010 at 11:43 am

Hi Andy,

I’ve sent an email query to both councilmembers asking if they would be willing to put the reasons for their objections in writing for me. We’ll see if I get a reply.

I can understand your reluctance to embrace the IPR idea, because there are valid questions about trace substances in our water supply that need resolution, but I consider that issue to be something that must be addressed for our entire water supply, not focused specifically in relation to this IPR project, because acknowledged by all or not, the water we now import contains treated wastewater already and we’re not presently treating THAT water to the higher levels that would be provided under the project.


avatar Patty Jones July 5, 2010 at 12:32 pm

George, I’m curious what their questions are also and look forward to an update, IF you get any answers from these folks.

As for TtT (I hesitate to say it outloud anymore), that label is a bad rap given to the issue by foot-dragging, disgruntled politicians (among others) and people DO need to get past it.


avatar George (GrokSurf) July 5, 2010 at 5:28 pm

Hm, yes, that TtT label is pretty silly. Here’s another one that’s silly too, although it puts a positive spin on it: Showers to flowers. Over in Singapore where they have an IPR operation in place, they call it NEWater and they even bottle it!


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