Mayor Jerry Sanders today vetoed the City Council’s push to develop a year-long pilot study of indirect potable reuse — the process that fills drinking reservoirs with treated sewage.

The council called in late October for Sanders and his staff to carry out a test-model of sewage recycling, sometimes called toilet-to-tap, by July and to analyze the holding capabilities of San Vicente Reservoir, where the recycled water would be stored. The council also wanted an analysis of the recycling’s financial and energy costs as well as a public education campaign.

“This is an economic decision,” Sanders said. The pilot program would require a water rate increase, he said, an unappealing option given that the city has already raised rates twice in the last year.

At the same time that Sanders said his decision was solely based on economics, both he and Water Department Director Jim Barrett were unable to provide solid estimates of the pilot program’s costs.

While Sanders said water rates would have to increase to finance the pilot, he couldn’t say how much.

And while the two officials said the pilot program would cost $10 million to $15 million, they couldn’t provide a cost breakdown. Barrett said the Water Department had not spent “any time or effort looking at potable reclaimed water use.”

“It really is just a rough order-of-magnitude planning estimate,” Barrett said. “It could be more, it could be less.”

The mayor’s estimate counts on a 17-mile pipe being built from a north San Diego sewage treatment facility to the San Vicente Reservoir. The two officials conceded that the city may be able to reduce costs by using existing pipelines owned by the San Diego County Water Authority. But they said that possibility had not been studied.

Should the issue return to council, the mayor would have to convince a councilmember to switch positions for his veto to stand. The council approved the recycling plan by a 5-2 vote. Council members Tony Young and Kevin Faulconer opposed it; Councilman Brian Maienschein was absent.

It takes only five votes to override the mayor’s veto — the same number it takes for the council to pass a measure.


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