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This post has been updated.
Mayor Kevin Faulconer stood outside a city water plant in Miramar Thursday morning to – in the words of his press release – “urge City Council” to pass a big water deal next week.
Just who he was urging, though, isn’t clear.
“I’m not aware of anybody being against it,” Faulconer spokesman Craig Gustafson said.
The deal is monumental in what it proposes, notable because there’s no organized opposition and mundane for being yet another step in proving San Diegans are cool with a new water future.
On Tuesday, the City Council will vote to ask the federal government to waive water pollution standards at the city’s Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant. See, San Diego doesn’t treat its wastewater to the same stringent standards other cities do before pumping it out into the ocean. So every five years since the 1990s, the city has had to ask the feds to allow the plant to continue operating without expensive upgrades.
The Council also will vote Tuesday to invest money instead in a recycled sewage program in the hopes that it will generate enough drinkable water for more than a third of the city’s water needs by 2035. The Council hopes this program will make any effort to upgrade the Point Loma plant unnecessary. The third part of the deal is to start negotiations with the federal government to eliminate the need for a waiver ever again.
These are multi-billion dollar decisions and in the past there’s been a lot of fighting over them. Not anymore. Joining Faulconer in support of the deal is Marco Gonzalez, an environmental attorney known for kicking up lots of dirt on the left, and the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, known for its own dirt-kicking on the right.
San Diegans have become increasingly comfortable with the idea of turning sewage into drinking water – even though the media still seems grossed out by “toilet to tap.” The biggest threat to this deal had nothing to do with water; it was a dispute with the state over an unrelated city ballot initiative. But that’s been ironed out now, too.
Put it all together and Tuesday’s Council vote, which would be the first formal step to get the deal going, looks like it’s going to pass without any problem.
The cost of the city’s recycled sewage project has been estimated at $2.5 billion to $3 billion, which is roughly the price tag of running the entire city for a year. Supporters of the deal point out it would cost a lot more to upgrade the Point Loma plant to the more advanced treatment standards and import more water, but it’s still a pretty penny. No one has figured out how to pay for it.
Gustafson, the mayor’s spokesman, said with some hopefulness in his voice that the project should be eligible for money from the $7.5 billion water bond that state voters passed earlier this month. The federal government should be interested as well, he said.
“This is the exact type of project the federal government will want to fund,” he said.
Correction: This story originally said Marco Gonzalez attended the Thursday press conference. He didn’t, but contributed a quotation in support of the deal in the mayor’s press release.