SANTEE, Calif. (KGTV) - Confetti flew as nearly a dozen officials from state and local water groups tossed dirt into the air, signaling the official groundbreaking of the East County Advanced Water Purification project.
"This will provide a local, reliable supply of water for East County residents," says Allen Carlisle, the outgoing CEO of the Padre Dam Municipal Water District.
The new water recycling plant will clean and purify 15 million gallons of wastewater every day, sending it to the Lake Jennings reservoir.
Water from that reservoir is then treated again before it goes into the system and is delivered to local homes and businesses.
"This project will create up to 30% of the water supply needs out here in East County," says Carlisle. "That supplies up to 500,000 individuals with their water supply."
This is the third recycled water facility in San Diego County. Oceanside opened a Pure Water recycling plant earlier this year. And in 2021, the City of San Diego broke ground on their own recycling facility.
All of this helps make the region more self-reliant when it comes to water, which is especially important during the current, prolonged drought.
"We're creating a new raw water supply," says Carlisle. "Instead of the water coming from the Colorado River, that is not the best quality water, this is much higher quality raw water."
Wastewater goes through a traditional treatment facility. Then the purification process sends it through micro-filtration, reverse osmosis, and UV sterilization.
Officials with the project point out that most people in Southern California have already been drinking recycled water, even without realizing it.
"This same technology that we're using today has been in use in Orange County for over 10 years," says Steve Goble, the Chairman of the East County Advanced Water Purification Joint Powers Authority. "If you've been to Disneyland and had a fountain drink, you've had recycled water."
In addition to helping San Diego become more water-independent, this facility will also help the environment.
Right now, East County's wastewater is sent to Point Loma for treatment. It's then dumped into the Pacific Ocean.
That dumping will end once the plant is operational.
"We're going to stop that 15 million gallons per day of water that ultimately is making it's way out to the Pacific Ocean, keep that in East County, treat it to advanced levels, and reuse that water right here," says Kyle Swanson, the incoming CEO of the Padre Dam Municipal Water Authority.
The project has an expected maximum cost of $950 million. Most of that money comes from low-interest loans from the state and federal government. Ratepayers in East County will pay that back through their water bills. Other funding came from a handful of grants.
Construction is expected to take 3-4 years, with a projected opening day early in 2026.