SAN DIEGO -- The San Diego City Council Tuesday unanimously approved renewing a federal permit needed to continue operations of the Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant and committed the city to begin a $3.5 billion project to recycle wastewater for potable use.
Supporters hope the project -- called Pure Water San Diego -- will result in recycling enough purified water to account for 30 percent of San Diego's drinking water needs by 2035.
City officials also plan to build a water-purification plant on North Harbor Drive to supplement efforts to recycle wastewater, but no timeline was given.
“We can no longer afford to use water just once here in this region,'' Councilwoman Marti Emerald said.
Mayor Kevin Faulconer called the Pure Water San Diego program “innovative and ambitious.'' The water will be reliable, drought-resistant and less expensive than importing 85 percent of water the city relies on, he said.
“Our city's presented with an incredible opportunity -- to gain water independence, the ability to control our own water supply for the very first time,'' Faulconer said.
Halla Razak, the city's Public Utilities Director, said the 20-year program would provide a “safe, reliable and local drinking water supply for San Diego" and “uses proven water purification technology and is environmentally sustainable.''
Environmental groups like San Diego Coastkeeper, Surfrider Foundation San Diego Chapter, Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation and the San Diego Audubon Society all back the city's approach.
“This vote represents a critical step towards solving San Diego County's water supply issues, and forms the basis of a new paradigm for water treatment and reuse in arid regions throughout the U.S. and Southern California," said Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation Executive Director Marco Gonzalez.
Often derided with names like “toilet-to-tap,'' a multi-step cleansing process being tested by the city 1 million gallons daily produces water cleaner than what residents drink now and meets or exceeds quality standards, according to backers of the plan.
“This agreement will significantly reduce the outflow of treated wastewater in our ocean, while providing a local, reliable water source for the City of San Diego,'' said Roger Kube, Chair of Surfrider Foundation San Diego County Chapter.
The project will be paid for by a mix of state and federal grants, and rate increases on consumers.
The handful of city residents who spoke in opposition to the plan cited costs, environmental concerns and worries that toxins, such as those from prescription medications, could be left in the water.
“I do not believe San Diego needs to sacrifice the health of our ocean in exchange for diluting our sewage for an easy supply for potable water,'' Ellen Shively said.