The Wall Street Journal had a nationwide look today at various cities’ fitful efforts to recycle sewage as a new source of drinking water. It offers this insight on San Diego’s latest discussions about it:

The high price tag of the new recycling systems can also be a hurdle. In San Diego, Mayor Jerry Sanders vetoed a plan to launch a pilot program to recycle wastewater back into the public-drinking-water supply last year. “The mayor determined it was not the best use of financial resources at this time,” says Bill Harris, the mayor’s spokesman, adding that the city has infrastructure problems that require more immediate attention.

Preliminary estimates of San Diego’s pilot project are between $6 million and $8 million. If the pilot project is successful, the cost estimate of a larger-scale project is $237.6 million, according a San Diego study on water reuse released in 2006.

Another issue affecting public perception in San Diego? The proposed project would pump purified wastewater into a reservoir instead of an aquifer. That prevents it from undergoing the same natural filtration process as treated wastewater in Orange County’s system.

But the City Council voted to override the mayor’s veto in December and forge ahead with the pilot project. “We’re just not in a position to turn our nose up at any option to increase water supply,” says City Council President Scott Peters.

Skeptics may feel squeamish about drinking what used to be toilet water, Mr. Peters says, but San Diego already receives at least some wastewater from other cities that discharge treated sewage water into the Colorado River. “The Colorado River is not filled with Dasani,” Mr. Peters says. “That’s where we get our water from.”


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