GrokSurf's San Diego

Local observations on water, environment, technology, law & politics

Helix Water District holds public scoping meeting for groundwater recharge IPR project in El Monte Valley

Posted by George J Janczyn on March 9, 2011

El Monte Valley. El Capitan Dam is around the bend a couple of miles.

The Helix Water District held a public meeting yesterday to give notice that it is beginning preparation of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the proposed El Monte Valley Project (or more completely, the El Monte Valley Mining, Reclamation, and Groundwater Recharge Project).

El Monte Valley lies just west of El Capitan Reservoir and dam, with the San Diego River channel running through its length. Beneath the valley is a groundwater aquifer that provides water to the Helix district and many valley residents with wells on their property. The project aims to recharge the aquifer with purified recycled water (aka indirect potable reuse, or IPR) that would be piped in from a facility in Santee and emptied into recharge basins to percolate into the ground. Some injection wells might also be used for the recharge process, which would raise the water table for the slowly depleting aquifer and provide the district with an additional 5 million gallons of water per day.

Other components of the project are a temporary (8-10 years) sand-mining operation that would help pay the cost of the project. Parts of the valley and river channel would then be graded, contoured, and restored for riparian habitat with native plants and trees and recreational features including hiking and equestrian trails.

Yesterday’s “Scoping Meeting” was held as an adjourned board meeting at the district’s La Mesa offices at 7811 University Avenue at 7pm. The primary reason for the meeting was to get feedback from stakeholders and interested persons about topics of concern they would like to have addressed by the EIR.

About 75 people attended this meeting. After a brief overview of the project by Tim Smith, Project Manager, about 14 people spoke on a variety of viewpoints.

The first person to speak was firmly opposed to the project altogether. She believed that there is no way to guarantee pharmaceuticals and other constituents can be completely eliminated; she’s afraid that highway 67, already a traffic bottleneck, will become a nightmare; and that a survey should have been done for all customers who would receive the new water.

The next person spoke emphatically against “toilet to tap” and asserted that the city of San Diego has rejected the IPR concept (I don’t know where he got that idea) and he doesn’t know why Helix Water District is now trying to do it.

Another voiced support for the project. In response to the “toilet to tap” comment, he made the point that there are many wastewater dischargers on the Colorado River (which supplies us with water) so we are already drinking treated wastewater. And further, that this project would provide much higher quality purified water than the raw river water that only gets standard treatment. He said he’s confident the district will follow the highest standards for assuring water quality.

On behalf of Surfrider Foundation, Belinda Smith congratulated the board for taking the initiative to develop a sustainable local water supply through recycling.

Someone else pointed to the San Diego River in the Mission Gorge and Mission Valley areas where mining activities have scarred the landscape with some spots pretty much ruined, so how can anyone trust what is promised with the El Monte Valley project?

Several people spoke as members of the Lakeside Planning Group. One of them said she is not taking a position until she has all the facts, but then offered that anybody who has already decided to speak in support of the project “should be ashamed of themselves.”

Another Lakeside Planning member questioned the wisdom of the sand mining operation, disputing that there’s a sand shortage in San Diego County that’s raising construction costs. He said he knows other sand mining business operators are having trouble finding customers and if the District steps in with a huge supply they may not be able to sell it as easily as they think, and they may endanger the smaller business operators as well.

One person objected to comparisons made with the successful groundwater recharge operation in Orange County, saying that those residents probably didn’t have to give up wells or have to endure a lengthy sand mining operation.

There were lots more topics raised. Won’t the increased water supply and restored habitat just make the valley more attractive for developers who will want to put in condos? There was a question about valley fever, which has occurred before, getting in the air with the dust and dirt flying around. Since some residents would no longer be able to use their well water for drinking, how would they be compensated for plumbing and the cost of potable water piped in?

How about floods? If the whole river bed is recontoured, will some homes not now in the floodplain find themselves in a floodplain after all? Then there are home values. What if someone wants to sell their home while all the construction activity is going on? How about the noise and visual effect on the view from homes on neighboring hillsides? What will a raised water table do when it reaches septic tanks for some homes? And, the whole character of the valley will change dramatically, it will never be the same.

It’s a good thing a district staffer was writing everything down on a flip chart, as I’ve only captured parts of the comments.

Helix has done a good job of communicating and soliciting feedback. In addition to yesterday’s meeting, the district has already held three stakeholders meetings at the Lakeside Christian Church in El Monte Valley (July 21 and Oct 12, 2010, and Feb 17, 2011), as well as numerous presentations to groups throughout their service area and beyond.

Helix also has a well-organized website for the project ( where they have provided access to all their documentation on the EIR, the Notice of Preparation, project descriptions, timeline, news, and links. You can also follow them on Twitter or Facebook.

[Late update: La Mesa Patch later published this report on the meeting]


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