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City reneges on water deal signed by mayor

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Posted at 4:43 PM, May 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-19 20:27:46-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — An East County water authority says its massive project to overhaul how hundreds of thousands of residents get their drinking water is now threatened.

It's because the city of San Diego is reneging on a deal Mayor Todd Gloria signed in January 2021 that would have helped what's called the East County Advanced Purification Project come to fruition. The project would capture and treat 15 million gallons of wastewater per day to produce 11.5 million gallons of potable water to the Helix and Padre Dam water districts.

"We actually have a signed agreement from the City of San Diego after 18 months of negotiations," said Steve Goble, chairman of the East County Advanced Water Purification Joint Powers Authority. "We just need them to honor this agreement."

Goble said the project would provide a reliable, cost-effective water supply for the next 30 to 40 years in East County.

The city, however, says its deal with the JPA wasn't legal. The dispute is over who pays for a pipeline that would direct the residual waste from the East County project away from the city's own project to convert wastewater to drinking water, called Pure Water.

Despite the agreement, the city now says it can't legally fund the pipeline under prop 218, which says local government can't spend ratepayer money on projects that don't directly serve the ratepayer.

At a JPA board meeting Thursday, City of San Diego Chief Operating Officer Jay Goldstone explained the contract the mayor signed was negotiated by the prior administration, and it was unclear how it made it to his desk without being flagged for its legal issues. He also expressed optimism a deal could get done.

Still, the city is saying until it renegotiates the agreement, it won't transfer a pump station on Mission Gorge Road to the agency. The city declared it as surplus, meaning it doesn't need it anymore. However, Goble says it's vital to the East County water project.

"The city shouldn't connect the transfer of this pump station to seek a better deal on a signed agreement," Goble said.

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A city-owned pump station on Mission Gorge Road.

In a statement, the Mayor's office said it would continue to negotiate with the JPA.

"The City has been participating in mediations in good faith and is willing to transfer assets under a lawful agreement that does not endanger Pure Water’s viability," a spokesman for the mayor said.

In a unanimous vote at the meeting, the JPA paved the way for potentially claiming the pump station via eminent domain.