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Archive for the ‘Indirect potable reuse’ Category

I’ll take purified recycled water, thank you

Posted by George J Janczyn on April 26, 2010

What should we call it? Toilet-to-tap? Purified sewage? Purified recycled water? I think it depends on whether you’re feeling disdain, hold-your-nose neutrality, or support.

“It” is Indirect Potable Reuse, or IPR, a process of purifying wastewater to the point where it’s at least as clean as the raw water that the city imports before it’s treated further for drinking.

I’m a supporter.

On Saturday I had a disagreement on twitter with Rob Davis, a reporter from Voice of San Diego. I suggested that his use of the term “purified sewage” makes it sound nearly as bad as “toilet-to-tap” used by opponents. I said sewage sounds too much like shit. He replied (it is shit. proponents need to embrace that fact; otherwise it seems like they’re trying to hide a basic fact.). Well yes, it’s a component of wastewater but why emphasize it? We never did settle that disagreement, and I lost the Voice of San Diego’s CEO from my twitter follower list after that.

The next day, Rob posted an item entitled”Guide to Purified Sewage” on Voice of San Diego. It’s a Q&A that describes Indirect Potable Reuse “in a nutshell”. Here’s a snippet:

The chatty Q&A is spruced up by the liberal use of the word “sewage” (40 times altogether, no doubt to help us “embrace that fact”).

[June 16: Sadly, almost two months later, the Voice of San Diego continues to use “recycled sewage” when talking about the IPR process]

Here’s how I would describe the process in a nutshell without rubbing your nose in sewage:

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Indirect potable reuse, Politics, Water | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

The water subsidy for golf courses ‘scandal’

Posted by George J Janczyn on April 17, 2010

Balboa Park Golf Course

Balboa Park Golf Course is not yet using reclaimed water

How your water rates subsidize golf courses” is the headline in a recent Voice of San Diego article by Rob Davis that will probably stir up some indignation around town. The article says that “475 businesses, homeowners associations, golf courses and public agencies” get a 78% discount on reclaimed water which is subsidized by regular water users. The article cites Michael Shames, executive director of UCAN, who suggests that discounted prices for reclaimed water users may be illegal, and that “City Councilwoman Donna Frye called it “out-of-whack” and promised to hold a public hearing on it.” In a subsequent PBS Editors Roundtable discussion, Voice of San Diego executive editor Andrew Donohue said a normal discount for reclaimed water should be only 10% and that the City had been keeping the subsidy for industrial use a secret.

I really don’t see a scandal here.

North City Water Reclamation Plant

First, the discount isn’t a secret (although details on its financial impact may be hard to obtain). The City’s Guaranteed Water for Industry Program is where the discounted water has been publicly documented [the discount is also documented here]. Initially the discount was only for businesses certified under the program, but presently the $0.80 per HCF price (which they wrote was a 50% discount) applies to all purchasers of reclaimed water (with the exception of Poway which is charged more because it didn’t pay certain capacity fees). [There is no discount for the fixed base fee, however. All water users pay the same base fee.]

Second, the suggestion that one group is subsidizing another group sidesteps the fact that it’s looking at two classes of water–it’s not one group of potable users subsidizing another group of potable users. It may be true, though, that if reclaimed water is being sold at a loss the entire Water Department budget has to absorb that loss [or possibly the Wastewater Department in which case the sewer fee would be the water customer revenue source supporting the recycled water sales].

Third, to use reclaimed water requires an expensive investment in purple pipe infrastructure and plumbing, so a discount in the water price certainly makes that decision by potential new customers a little easier.

Ocean outfall at Point Loma

Last, as things stand, San Diego’s water reclamation plants remain unable to sell all the water they can treat. The Voice’s article briefly mentions the 2001 City Council decision to discount the water in order to attract buyers, but the lack of buyers is still a very important fact to consider. A large amount of usable reclaimed water they can’t sell, even today, is pumped to the Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant and disposed of through the ocean outfall into the Pacific. Considering the substantial infrastructure expense and the amount of treated water going to waste, it only makes sense that large water consumers like golf courses should be targeted first as customers for reclaimed water. Without a discount for the reclaimed water, businesses have less incentive to stop using potable drinking water for their irrigation and industrial needs. [Consider, too, that the City is under an EPA mandate to maximize the reuse of the water treated at this plant]. Do we really prefer to continue sending precious potable water to golf courses and industry while treating reclaimed water to usable standards and then dumping it in the ocean?

Yes, we need to reexamine the discounted price for reclaimed water; that price probably should at least be adjusted for inflation and operating costs. And in fact, the Water Department is currently performing a Recycled Water Pricing Study which is due sometime this year.

As for additional outlets for surplus reclaimed water, I completely support the Indirect Potable Reuse Study that is looking at advanced purification of reclaimed water to bring it to a potable drinking water standard. That project envisions a 1 million gallon per day operation during the study, and if deemed feasible and if approved by the Mayor and Council, a full-scale IPR/Reservoir Augmentation project with a plant adjacent to the North City Water Reclamation Plant and a pipeline to San Vicente Reservoir, would generate approximately 16 MGD. But convincing the population to agree to recycled drinking water isn’t made easier when the media keeps calling it “toilet to tap.” The Voice’s “…use its sewage to boost drinking water supplies” is just as bad. Surely they can do better than that. A good substitute for the awkward phrase “indirect potable reuse” that I’ve seen used is “repurified water.”

So, we still need to find a way to stop throwing recycled water away — we need to find new buyers for that water. I say we should definitely make a realistic adjustment to the discount for reclaimed water, but not eliminate it. In the long term reclaimed water needs to make a big difference in the availability and reliability of drinking water supplies for San Diego and we should support incentives to increase its use.

Apr 20, 2010: The Voice continues to press its complaint with The unanswered golf course subsidy question: “The city knows the answers to those questions — it just isn’t sharing.”

Looking at the Recycled Water Cost Study draft report (the ‘confidential city study‘ that the article refers to), I see that it recommends the recycled water rate to significantly increase from the present $0.80 per HCF to $1.46 in 2010, $2.03 in 2011, and $2.66 in 2012. The report also states that the recycled rate increases are expected to eventually allow the potable water system to recover all contributions it is making to support the recycled system discount.


Posted in Environment, Indirect potable reuse, Water | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Framework for informed planning decisions regarding indirect potable reuse and dual pipe systems

Posted by George J Janczyn on April 16, 2010

A Request For Proposals (RFP) recently issued may be of interest to anyone following San Diego’s Indirect Potable Reuse Study. The project is sponsored by the WateReuse Foundation as part of the Foundation’s Solicited Research Program. The Bureau of Reclamation is a funding partner for the project.

“The project objective is to develop a tool to help enable utilities to make an informed and sustainable decision regarding their investment into reuse options at the project, city, or regional level. Specifically, this tool will address issues, advantages, and obstacles in the implementation of an Indirect Potable Reuse (IPR) project, dual pipe reuse system with or without point of use treatment, or combinations therein to enable utilities to objectively plan projects against triple bottom line objectives. This will be accomplished by creating a planning framework, such as a decision tree matrix, that considers all aspects — social and legal, economic, and environmental — of IPR and dual pipe reclaimed water distribution systems that can include point of use treatment requirements.”

Click here to see the complete RFP.


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San Diego’s water plight attracts attention of Korean press

Posted by George J Janczyn on March 22, 2010

The Korea Times today published an opinion that has bearing on San Diego’s Indirect Potable Reuse Study (for purified reclaimed drinking water). In a brief review of Robert Glennon’s book “Unquenchable: America’s water crisis and what to do about it” the opinion refers to

“…the plight of San Diego, a city that has debated for almost two decades the use of the “toilet-to-tap” water as an alternative source of replenishing the reservoirs for its drinking supply. No matter how cogently the local water authorities, academics and private business experts all argue that it is safe, affordable and necessary, that the reverse osmosis procedure will re-purify the water to be tastelessly clean, the “yuck factor” apparently requires a lot more flushing out.

But San Diegans may have to seriously consider the reuse water…”

Click here to read the entire opinion.


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Water reuse is imperative for a sustainable San Diego

Posted by George J Janczyn on December 14, 2009

July 2009: low water level in Lake Mead near Hoover Dam

Whether you believe global warming contributes to drought or that when the drought is over our problems will go away, the fact is that water scarcity is not a temporary condition in Southern California. For one thing, our access to Colorado River water is decreasing. But California’s take of Colorado River water is not dropping because of drought or politics. Yes, there is growth and development everywhere and western states are taking more water from the Colorado River than ever, but the reason for our reduction is that we have to stop taking more than we are legally entitled to.

For years California withdrew more than its legal allotment of Colorado River water by as much as 800,000 acre feet per year. This was permitted because other states, primarily Arizona and Nevada, were not taking the full amount they are legally entitled to. But as those states increasingly began taking their share, California was forced to begin making adjustments to live within its means and move to comply with its legal allocation of 4.4 million acre feet per year. So, too, San Diego is adjusting to a reduction in water deliveries from the Colorado River that will be permanent, in addition to the latest cutbacks from Northern California. Plus, even when the Colorado River flows at “normal” levels — a rate which is increasingly uncertain — it may not produce enough water to permit everybody to take their full share, especially when you consider that the allotments were based on unrealistically high flow rate projections.

San Diego’s heavy dependence on Colorado River water places it in a very vulnerable position, especially with the prospect of reduced deliveries from northern California. Fortunately, these days a growing number of San Diegans are becoming more aware of our heavy dependence on imported water and the importance of long-term sustainable approaches to meet our demand. My question is: how much will citizens support further recycling to make San Diego more independent in providing for its water requirements?

The San Diego County Water Authority and the San Diego Water Department began working many years ago on ways to reduce our reliance on imported water. They negotiated the purchase of water conserved by Imperial Valley farmers for transfer to San Diego. We’re currently receiving water under the agreement although two new lawsuits challenging the transfer were recently filed [–yes, technically that’s still imported water]. A new desalination plant is in the works in Carlsbad (that’s still being challenged as well). The San Vicente Dam is being raised to increase its capacity. Additional groundwater sources are being studied. Two water reclamation plants were built to treat wastewater for irrigation and industrial use in the northern and southern regions (and the city could probably use a third for the central areas). There is renewed emphasis on water conservation. And now more important than ever, there’s the possibility of highly advanced treatment of wastewater for indirect potable reuse.

North City Water Reclamation Plant

Actually, the San Diego City Council in 1989 passed an ordinance requiring wide use of recycled water. For whatever reasons, recycling then languished for years. Then growing support for recycling led to the construction of the two recycling plants, but an indirect potable water reuse project was vetoed by Mayor Sanders in 2007. Although scientific studies established that water quality from highly advanced treatment not only equals but exceeds the quality of water that is currently distributed for potable purposes, the mayor and other opponents of the plan used the “toilet-to-tap” label and other inflammatory rhetoric to fight the project. Fortunately, clearer minds prevailed and the veto was overridden by the city council (Mike Lee recounts this history at

The Water Purification Demonstration Project is making some progress now. The project aims to demonstrate the feasibility of providing highly advanced treatment and disinfection for 1 million gallons of water per day, bringing it to indirect potable standards and supplementing the city’s water supplies by blending it with water in the San Vicente reservoir.

The San Diego Water Department is planning to give a presentation on this topic at UCSD sometime in January. They also will submit a public outreach and education contract proposal to the city council in early 2010. Keep your eyes open for announcements. [update below]

A moderate amount of recycled water is being used now, but there’s plenty of unused production capacity. Purifying it to indirect potable standards could and should be a significant component of San Diego’s efforts to reduce reliance on imported water. If the IPR study is successful and the technology is approved for production, the process could produce up to 16MGD of potable water. It absolutely makes sense to reuse as much water as possible that otherwise goes wasted into the ocean. When the Water Department’s outreach and education efforts begin rolling out next year, I hope enlightened San Diegans will reject the fearmongering by opponents and throw their support behind this worthwhile project.

UPDATE Jan 27, 2010:The public outreach contract mentioned above was brought to the Jan. 26 San Diego City Council meeting where they approved “an Agreement between the City of San Diego and RMC Water and Environment, to perform the Project Management and Public Outreach for the Demonstration Project, in an amount not to exceed $3,281,353.” (City Council Docket Item #334)

For continuing coverage on indirect potable reuse, please see the Indirect potable reuse page

Click here for background resources

Posted in Colorado River, Environment, Indirect potable reuse, Politics, Purified recycled water, Water, Water reuse--San Diego | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »