After a federal court judge on Friday ordered a massive reduction in water supplies from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, City Attorney Mike Aguirre said earlier today the city should revisit its failed water reuse efforts.
The delta, which captures snowmelt from the Sierra Nevada, has been a vital source of San Diego’s water, in some years providing up to 70 percent of the water delivered to Southern California.
But a judge issued a ruling Friday that water agencies said could reduce exports from the delta by 37 percent annually. The decision came after environmentalists sued to protect an endangered fish called the delta smelt. Environmental groups successfully argued the state’s permits for operating pumps that push water from the delta to Southern California didn’t ensure the protection of the smelt, which gets ground up in the pumps.
Aguirre said the ruling’s highlights the need for water reuse to rise above the political backlash it has endured. The practice, in which treated wastewater is piped into drinking reservoirs, has been derided before as “Toilet to Tap.” Mayor Jerry Sanders has opposed it.
“We have to push past the uninformed point of view,” Aguirre said. “We are now years behind where we could have been.”
Aguirre said the city should pursue water reuse in exchange for an agreement from environmental groups to support a waiver of a needed upgrade at the city’s Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant.
Bruce Reznik, executive director of San Diego Coastkeeper, said his organization would support that plan. In the short-term, Reznik said, the city could reuse 36 million gallons of water daily, though today only recycles about 8 million gallons.
“The decision up on the delta is one of a string of things going on that are all telling us the same thing: That we need to develop local water supplies,” Reznik said.
The federal judge’s decision comes as San Diego’s two major water supplies are suffering dry spells. The Colorado River is in its eighth year of drought. The Sierra Nevada range, the region’s other major source, had one of its driest winters on record.
Dennis Cushman, the San Diego County Water Authority’s assistant general manager, said he believed water reuse would eventually happen. But more education will have to occur before the public accepts it, he said.
“Clearly there’s an educational issue involved there,” Cushman said. “But let me put it in these terms. The water coming out of your tap was a beer at a blackjack table in Las Vegas five or six days ago. All water is recycled water.”