A renewed focus on water recycling is welcomed news. Recycling can help our community weather droughts better than any other measure we could implement including using less water altogether. We are already below the EPA’s WaterSense standard for daily per capita consumption of water sold exclusively to residential customers. The majority of water sold by the Coastside County Water District for purposes other than inside residences is used for commercial purposes such as horticulture, so reducing water use here means weakening our commercial enterprises and losing local jobs.

Recycling is conservation because it reuses water instead of replacing used water with new water taken from the environment. Draconian reductions in urban water use are coming due to climate change and a mandate to reallocate California’s natural water supply between the environment, agricultural and urban uses. 

Recycled water is a proven known quantity, a reliable supply of water in every community that has implemented it. The quantity of recycled water available is not impacted by drought because it depends primarily on indoor consumption which is the least impacted by drought restrictions. Our wastewater facility could provide enough recycled water to service an urban population equal to four times the residential users served today by Montara Water and Sanitary District, one of two water providers in our community. It serves 6,000 of the 25,000 people living within the Sewer Authority Mid-coastside’s boundaries. CCWD serves water to the other 19,000 Coastsiders. This is more than enough water to make the entire community, all 25,000 people, drought resistant.

Climate change, paradoxically, has created storms that flood public infrastructure. Consequently, our wastewater treatment facility, operated by SAM, must be upgraded soon to avoid disaster due to these increasingly frequent deluges of rainwater. The Review reported on an urgent need to harden the facility now to avoid a costly environmental disaster should the plant be flooded.

Decades of deferred maintenance and improvements plus changing weather patterns requires an urgent investment in the SAM plant. A consultant estimated the cost to do this at around $40 million. Adding recycling to make potable water to the list would not add significantly to the costs of improvements. Modernizing our wastewater treatment facility to include recycling solves two problems, not just one, and saves community resources in the long run.

Developing new supplies of water from our local resources (deep wells, more from local streams or desalination of ocean water) are not viable alternatives to rebuilding the SAM plant enabling it to produce recycled water.

Today all treated wastewater is discharged into the ocean. This will be greatly restricted in the future. It harms the ocean environment. Developing new local sources would be an expensive extra burden on community resources in addition to the cost to restore the SAM plant. The looming need to reduce the ocean outflow would remain a future cost. All of these additional costs are avoided by recycling.

Forty states are experiencing water shortages today. Many have already implemented recycling. Water from drinking fountains at Disneyland has been recycled three times. Recycling technology is capable of meeting all potable water health and safety standards. The water used to manufacture semiconductors is already processed to an even higher standard than required for drinking water. The cost of this technology is dropping because of economies of scale. The legal standards to implementing recycling everywhere in California are expected to be in place soon and well before we could rebuild the SAM plant to recycle.

Water recycled exclusively for irrigation, as some of CCWD water is used today, would consume less than one third of the guaranteed reserve that recycled water could provide. Recycling water only to be used for irrigation would require a costly separate new distribution system unless it is recycled to meet a potable water standard. Only potable water can be transported in the water distribution systems used by CCWD and MWSD today. There would still be the future expense to reduce the ocean discharge. None of water discharged to the ocean generates revenues to pay for the costs to process it.

To secure our community for the future, we need a rational plan that includes the technical design, permits and a viable economic strategy to pay for it. The time is now to get this urgent planning process underway. We would be foolish not to do it.

Jim Larimer is a Miramar resident and former director of the CCWD.

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(2) comments

Perspective

Well Jim, this was addressed back in 2007-2017 when ALL SAM agencies undertook a half million $ design project. The design completed June 12, 2017, two weeks before HMB sued its partners over the inter-tie pipeline. There is/was no discernable benefit to MWSD or GCSD from that recycled water, yet they agreed to fund half the cost to "do the right thing". After 5 years of a preposterous lawsuit against them, I doubt they'll pitch in again this time; they already wasted a quarter of a million to help HMB with this issue last time... Details in Footnote 6 of this article: https://www.coastsidebuzz.com/27839-2/

Jim Larimer

The problems the community faces are many. The sewer plant is in terrible condition and must be repaired. The outfall of treated wastewater into the ocean will be more tightly regulated in the future requiring our wastewater treatment plant to discharge less volume into the ocean. Climate change has resulted in more frequent and lasting droughts. The state is in the process of reallocating our statewide supply of fresh water. All users of the state’s freshwater resource will receive less of it in the future. The result of climate change, drought, and water resource reallocation requires that our community, not unlike every community in California, must find additional supplies of potable water.

Pointing the finger of blame, as some would do, for the bad decisions made in the past will not solve these problems. For our community, recycling for reuse the hundreds of millions of gallons of water we today discharge today into the ocean annually would make our community drought resistant for the future, solve several environmental problems, and cost the community less overall. We cannot relive the past, but we can act now to change the future. That is the choice we should be considering.

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