Ramona Sentinel – November 7, 2019
Since the days of the Kumeyaay, survival in San Diego has depended on the availability of water. While blessed to live in the one of the most beautiful places in the world, the fact remains we must rely upon outside sources to meet our water needs. The level of this dependency, however, is more a matter of resolve rather than circumstance.
In the late 1990s, this situation reached a critical point when San Diego County found itself importing more than 90 percent of our water and our primary supplier, the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) in Los Angeles, was taking action that could reduce our water allocation by up to 50 percent. Since that time, the San Diego County Water Authority, comprised of local water agencies and districts throughout the region, began a concerted effort to decrease this dependency on MWD and make San Diego more water independent.
Years of dedication and hard work produced results. After implementing conservation and education programs, researching and designing projects to increase the storage capacity of our reservoirs and aquafers, investing in desalination and engaging in water transfers with the Imperial Valley, we have decreased our MWD water dependency to less than 50 percent. This is a great achievement, but there is more work to do.
An approach I support, and which has demonstrated great potential, is potable reuse. The City of San Diego’s Pure Water program and the East County Advanced Water Purification program led by Padre Dam Municipal Water District, Helix Water District, the City of El Cajon and the County of San Diego, are both viable and effective. These important programs utilize water purification technology through chlorine and/or ozone disinfection, membrane filtration, reverse osmosis and ultra violet advanced oxidation that purifies recycled wastewater, creating a product nearly distilled in terms of quality. This cost-effective, long-term solution creates a reliable and sustainable local drinking water supply, further decreasing our dependency on imported water.
Aside from ongoing water conservation and monitoring programs, the City of San Diego has also invested in the building of two water treatment facilities to supplement its Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant, the primary location for ocean discharge for the Metropolitan sewer system. These new facilities have the capability of treating 240 million gallons of water per day, resulting in a consistent reduction in discharge flows into the ocean since 1995.
To support this effort, my San Diego colleagues Scott Peters, Susan Davis and I have introduced bipartisan legislation to provide regulatory flexibility to the local San Diego region in its water management. Our legislation amends the Ocean Pollution Reduction Act (OPRA) authorizing a waiver from certain regulatory obligations to San Diego regarding its Point Loma plant.
Granting this permanent waiver will supplement water management efforts throughout San Diego County and provide more water for the potable reuse programs I referenced before. The City of San Diego’s Pure Water program and the East County Advanced Water Purification Program are the next steps in offloading capacity at the Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant. Therefore, investments into these new water facilities rather than into the Metropolitan sewer system make sense. The permanent waiver will utilize ratepayer funding for creating water supplies instead of upgrading a facility that simply discharges the water into the ocean. Our congressional delegation, in cooperation with local agencies and pubic advocacy groups, are working as a team to ensure that San Diego continues making progress in this critical area.
Becoming more water independent is not an easy task, but it is achievable and we have made great strides. Our legislation is important piece of a larger effort toward both achieving our local goal of expanding San Diego’s water management portfolio while, at the same time, serving as an example to other water dependent communities of what proactive leadership and resolve can achieve. I’m looking forward to taking this next step.
Duncan Hunter represents California’s 50th Congressional District, which includes East and North San Diego County.