The reverse osmosis barrier inside the North City Pure Water Facility / Photo by Megan Wood

East County says it filed paperwork in court Tuesday to begin the legal wrestling of land from the city of San Diego, land that East County needs to build its own wastewater-to-drinking water recycling project.

The board of the East County Advanced Water Project threatened to use eminent domain – power governments can exercise to take property for its use – against the city of San Diego a few months ago. But it held off to allow negotiations over a new agreement between the two parties.

But those talks haven’t produced results fast enough, says Steve Goble, an El Cajon councilman on the board of the East County wastewater-to-drinking water recycling project.

Why that matters: In order for East County to build their project, they need a set of pumps in East Mission Gorge owned by the city of San Diego. But San Diego wants East County to build a new pipeline to re-route all their wastewater byproduct to a treatment plant in Point Loma, instead of dumping it into a regional wastewater system San Diego shares with a bunch of other cities. 

But now San Diego is delaying the forging of a new agreement between the two parties, Goble said.

“The longer they take to delay, the worse they’re making the problem of their fear of (the pipeline) not being ready,” said Goble.

Kyle Swanson, CEO of Padre Dam Municipal Water District, notified San Diego of the eminent domain filing in a July 5 letter. They want a court to grant the trio of governments possession of pieces of San Diego’s East Mission Gorge property, where a set of key water pumps lie, to begin construction this fall.

That move is a big deal to the city if East County were to move forward without having these other agreements in place, said Jay Goldstone, interim chief operations officer at the city of San Diego. That brine line is needed to “protect the city’s water supply,” because San Diego is worried about anyone dumping wastewater into their system from a treatment process the city doesn’t control aka East County’s recycling project. 

“We will most likely fight (eminent domain),” Goldstone said. “But that doesn’t change our relationship or desire to get agreements to them and everything finalized.”

We laid out why sewage is now such a valuable commodity worth fighting over in a story back in May. By June it seemed negotiations were going well, except a group of 13 other cities and agencies (called the Metro JPA) that share San Diego’s wastewater system feared they’d be asked to chip in. If they helped pay for this new pipeline, that would mean that it would become a regional asset, and therefore, everyone’s problem.

The Metro JPA, sent two letters to the warring parties in early June warning that they’d better be asked to sit at the negotiation table if they’re asked to pay. The Metro JPA is already on the hook to help pay for the city of San Diego’s multi-billion Pure Water wastewater recycling project. And they don’t want to pay a penny more.

“(Metro JPA) will only bear costs that provide a clear and direct benefit to (Metro JPA) and their ratepayers,” wrote the agency’s chair and Lemon Grove Mayor Pro Tem Jerry Jones on June 2.

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