Two negatives usually do not make a positive — except in Escondido, Calif., where the city is using its abundant supply of treated wastewater to offset water shortages. Escondido’s population has more than doubled during the past two decades, from approximately 64,000 residents in 1980 to approximately 140,000 today.
That explosive growth put pressure on the city’s wastewater-treatment infrastructure, and, by the early 1990s, stormwater runoff was causing treated wastewater to contaminate Escondido Creek. At the same time, enough stormwater runoff was heading to the sewer collection system to exceed the capacity of Escondido’s Ocean Outfall line, a pipeline that extends two miles under the ocean from the city’s shoreline.
The city also had to import 60 percent of its water — 80 percent during dry years. After studying the situation, the city’s leaders discovered that having too much water in one place could be the solution to not having enough in another.
That discovery prompted the city’s utilities staff to construct tertiary treatment and distribution lines that would provide reclaimed water to customers throughout Escondido, thereby diverting water from the Ocean Outfall line, reducing the city’s reliance on imported water and generating revenue. Although the city estimated the project would pay for itself within 10 years, the initial costs would be high: $85 million. Finding those funds would require five years of diligent searching.
By 1993, Escondido received its first grant, covering 22 percent of the project’s costs, from the federal Bureau of Reclamation. Next, it obtained State Revolving Fund Loans to cover another 52 percent of the costs. Then, because Escondido’s plant treats wastewater from the northernmost reaches of San Diego, San Diego contributed 16 percent of the costs, footing the bill for essential upgrades to Escondido’s primary and secondary treatment processes. The remaining 10 percent came from municipal bonds and cash from the city’s water and wastewater utilities.
An additional financial boon came from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and the San Diego Water Authority — wholesalers of imported potable water — which agreed to provide $400 in production-cost subsidies per acre-foot of delivered recycled water for the first 10 years of the project’s operation. Those subsidies account for about 60 percent of the costs of recycling and delivering the water.
But Escondido’s leaders realized early that the success of the project would not hinge on funding alone: It would require the support of the community, whose residents might encounter the inconvenience of construction, and who might be concerned about the public-health and environmental ramifications of using reclaimed wastewater to irrigate land. To allay those concerns, the city mounted a public-outreach campaign, holding meetings with community groups, writing press releases, posting signs along the project’s construction and irrigation routes, and working with its employees on media relations. By early 2003, the project was complete.
Although the city still imports more than half of its water, Neil Greenwood, Escondido’s utilities construction project manager, expects that number to shrink significantly during the coming years. “As the system is brought online, our typical consumption of potable water — 40 million gallons a day — will be reduced proportionally by the amount of reclaimed water we produce, which [initially] will be about 9 million gallons a day,” he says. “We also will reduce the flow [of treated wastewater] through the Ocean Outfall line by the quantity of reclaimed water produced.”
Agencies/companies involved: Archer Western, San Diego; California Department of Fish and Game, Sacramento, Calif.; Daniel Boyle Engineering, Oceanside, Calif.; EDAW, San Diego; Gateway Pacific, Sacramento, Calif.; Montgomery Watson Harza, San Diego; Regional Water Quality Control Board, San Diego Region; State Water Resources Control Board; Thomas Pipeline, Wildomar, Calif.; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Washington, D.C.; U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation, Washington, D.C.; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington, D.C.; W.A. Rasik, Lynwood, Calif.; Water 3, Escondido.