The San Diego City Council approved new water purification plans intended to produce up to 40 percent of the city’s current water usage. The council gave city staff 90 days to develop a plan that will fully implement water purification in the city.
The decision was made after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that the California Department of Public Health failed to spend $455 million in federal funds to improve the quality of drinking water.
The State Water Resources Control Board estimates that over half of California’s population relies on drinking water contaminated by arsenic, nitrates and other agricultural pollutants.
Public health officials also attributed the plans to an American Rivers ranking that placed the Colorado River at the top of its “Most Endangered Rivers in America” list.
“Last week the Colorado River was named the most endangered river in the county, yet this is the main source of our drinking water,” San Diego Coastkeeper’s waterkeeper and Water Reliability Coalition Co-Chair Jill Witkowski said in a press release. “It’s monumental for the city of San Diego to take this huge step toward producing our own safe drinking water to relieve our dependence on the Colorado.”
The water purification project is based on the city’s previous demonstration project built to determine if wastewater could be turned into safe drinking water. Quality tests at the plant showed that the treated water was on par with state and federal standards.
Construction may begin on a full-scale $370 million facility to turn wastewater into drinking water. The purification plant could supply up to 88 million of the 200 million gallons of water that the city uses every day. Initially, the plant would produce about 15 million gallons, or about 8 percent of the city’s current usage.
The city is also considering easing municipal code restrictions on basic household water recycling systems. The small-scale systems allow houses to redirect recycled graywater from showers and clothes washers towards lawn and garden irrigation.
Advocates of recycling graywater claim that its use can cut household water consumption in half. Currently, San Francisco and Santa Barbara permit the use of these systems.