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The San Diego City Council signaled support for bolstering the city’s water supply with recycled wastewater today, a significant step in a once-dormant debate resuscitated by concerns over the region’s water supply.

In the process, it bucked Mayor Jerry Sanders, who opposes the initiative because of its cost and his perception that residents won’t stomach the process of treating sewage so that it’s drinkable.

The vote marks a new milestone in the debate over recycling water, coming at time when regional water officials have warned that drought and new court-ordered cutbacks on importing from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta could lead to water rationing as early as next year.

“The people of San Diego are beginning to realize that there is only so much water to go around,” Councilman Jim Madaffer said.

The council vote prods the city toward putting into effect the furthest-reaching option for water recycling of the proposals that were included in a 2006 study of the issue. The vote calls for Sanders and his staff to carry out a test-model of water recycling by July and to analyze the flow and holding capabilities of San Vicente Reservoir, where the recycled water would be held under the council-preferred option. The council also wants the financial and energy requirements to be studied if water recycling were to occur, and to begin educating community groups on the issue as early as January.

The move pits the council against the mayor, who oversees the water and sewer agencies that would be in charge of implementing a water recycling system. Sanders has argued that the public doesn’t want to receive “toilet to tap” water, although many speakers at this afternoon’s meeting noted that some of the water the region receives from the Colorado River is treated wastewater from upstream areas such as Las Vegas.

Sanders has also criticized the cost of upgrading the water system, saying the city can’t currently afford it and that asking ratepayers to fork over more money on top of the fee hikes they’ve received to repair the water and sewer systems’ current infrastructure is unfair.

The council supported water recycling, 5-to-2. Council President Scott Peters and Council members Toni Atkins, Donna Frye, Jim Madaffer and Ben Hueso voted yes. Councilman Kevin Faulconer and Tony Young voted no. Councilman Brian Maienschein was absent.

EVAN McLAUGHLIN

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