Mayor Opposes 'Toilet-To-Tap' Water Supply Proposal

Mayor Jerry Sanders Thursday restated his opposition to using treated sewage to supplement San Diego's drinking water supply, dubbed "toilet-to-tap" by detractors.

"I'll oppose any effort to bring about toilet-to-tap," Sanders said. "There is neither the money nor the public will to support such a program."

The mayor was responding to City Attorney Michael Aguirre's recent call for San Diego to begin using recycled water to bolster its reservoirs, an effort he again urged the public and elected officials to embrace.

"Right now the city of San Diego is facing a water crisis," Aguirre said. "We have entered into a period of uncertainty, and we know there will be substantial cutbacks in water supplies beginning next spring."

He cited a federal judge's recent ruling that may limit the amount of fresh water that can be pumped from the San Joaquin River Delta in an effort to protect the delta smelt, an endangered fish.

The significance of the ruling won't be known until the judge makes a final decision, said Water Department Director Jim Barrett.

"Until that final ruling is provided, we won't really know what the impact is," Barrett said.

Ninety percent of the water used in San Diego is imported, primarily from Northern California and the Colorado River.

"What we are facing is a water cutoff threat," Aguirre said. "Keeping us in a system in which we are dependent on imported water from far-away sources from our city is not a prudent approach to protecting the safety and security of the people of San Diego."

The mayor said the city attorney's plan for reclaimed water would cost upwards of $4.5 billion to implement system-wide.

At a minimum, expanding the recycled water system would cost $300 million, and take seven to nine years to complete, Sanders said.

"Toilet-to-tap is clearly not cost-efficient," he said.

The mayor said a reclaimed water program would contribute only about 5 percent to the city's supply.

Recycled water is now being used in San Diego for things like irrigation of landscaping along roadways and in parks, but it is not pumped into the municipal drinking supply.

Instead of a "toilet-to-tap" program, Sanders said residents need to increase conservation efforts and officials need to explore new sources of water, like desalination and the exploitation of groundwater.

Aguirre drew criticism from Sanders for trying to link a waiver the city may seek from the Environmental Protection Agency and reclaimed water.

The city faces a December deadline to seek a third waiver from the EPA to avoid having to spend about $1.4 billion to upgrade the Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant to a more advanced level of treatment.

In a memo sent to the mayor and City Council two weeks ago, Aguirre said he would petition the EPA for the waiver in exchange for a mandatory water recycling program in San Diego.

"The two issues are in no way connected," Sanders said, calling it "irresponsible" for the city attorney to link them.

"Moreover, the EPA has no interest whatsoever in telling the city what to do about its water supply," he said. "This is a ridiculous tradeoff that will be borne by the taxpayers, and I don't believe it is right."

The mayor has convened a scientific panel to advise him on whether to spend the money to upgrade the Point Loma plant to what is know as a "secondary" treatment level, a move some say is unnecessary because treated effluent is now pumped five miles offshore.

The panel is slated to make its recommendation in October.

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