The Morning Report
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Ten years ago, the city of San Diego averaged a sewer spill a day. That’s dropped sharply. Last year, the city had 38 sewer spills — roughly one every 10 days.

The progress, highlighted by Mayor Jerry Sanders at a morning press conference, comes as the city invests $1 billion in replacing the oldest pipes in its 3,000-mile network of sewer pipes. The expenditure is required as part of a 2007 legal settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and two local environmental groups: San Diego Coastkeeper and the Surfrider Foundation.

To date, $500 million has been spent, said Ann Sasaki, the city’s assistant public utilities director. That’s replaced 300 miles of aging concrete pipe with new PVC pipe and has reduced the average age of San Diego’s sewer pipes from 45 years old to 32 years old, she said.

Before the city was sued over its sewer spills, it had been replacing an average of 20 miles of sewer pipe annually. That rate has more than doubled, though, and it is now replacing 45 miles annually. It’ll stay at that rate through 2013, when the terms of the legal settlement expire.

Even then, Sasaki said, the city plans to continue replacing 40 miles annually.

“We still have a lot more work to continue with,” she said.

The city’s efforts to cut sewer spills — funded by sewer bill increases — have gone beyond the pipe replacements. It’s also been required to secure manhole covers, probe pipes with cameras and inspect thousands of restaurants annually to ensure they’re not dumping oil and grease down the drain.

Coastkeeper praised the city’s progress in a press release, but cautioned the city to remain vigilant, pointing to a 2007 spill that dumped 400,000 gallons of untreated sewage in Lake Hodges.

“The city must continue with the same diligence and focus to further reduce both the frequency and volume of sewage spills in San Diego,” Coastkeeper’s executive director, Bruce Reznik, said in the release.

Sanders touted the spill reduction as a cost-saver for the city. Reducing city responses to sewer spills, he said, has saved the city $6 million. It has, though, spent $500 million to yield that savings.

— ROB DAVIS

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