The Coast News Group

Escondido develops ‘critical’ recycled water project

ESCONDIDO — The city of Escondido has approved initial plans for new recycled water and potable water reuse systems with the intention of securing a local, drought-proof water source for future generations.

The construction of the new systems was divided into 25 projects to be built in phases over 20 years. City utilities staff estimate that the project will cost just under $300 million, which will most likely necessitate water rate increases for the city.

“This is the most critical economic development and self-sufficiency project that the city could take on right now,” said Deputy Mayor Olga Diaz at Wednesday night’s City Council meeting. “This is not optional.”

“Expansion of recycled water treatment and distribution would not only generate revenue for the city, but would help us solve the two big gorillas in the room for our department: dependence on imported water and our outfall issues,” said Escondido’s Director of Utilities Chris McKinney.

The city’s current water supply consists of local sources that are sustained by rainfall, but mostly depends on costly imported water, he explained. Imported water becomes particularly expensive and more difficult to obtain during drought seasons like the one the state is presently experiencing.

The city’s existing plant, the Hale Avenue Resource Recovery Facility (HARRF), treats wastewater and discharges the treated water to the ocean. HARRF’s treatment is also able to create high quality water that can be reused for non-drinking purposes including irrigation.

But the city is confronting capacity issues at the HARRF.

Tasked with treating wastewater for both Escondido and Rancho Bernardo, HARRF needs a larger pipeline to send more treated water to the ocean.

Expansion of the HARRF facility, particularly its capacity to recycle more water for reuse, is also problematic because the facility’s site is running out of space.

Constructing a larger pipeline from HARRF to the ocean would cost an estimated $403 million.

The pipeline expansion is unable to be built in phases and would require the city to spend a lot of money in a short amount of time in just a few years, McKinney stated. Moreover, the city would have no way to generate revenue from the expansion and would have to continually spend money to maintain the infrastructure.

The pipeline is located near Escondido Creek and construction would disrupt the sensitive habitat.

With such high costs and negative environmental impacts, city staff recommended that council support building a new water treatment facility to produce better quality recycled water and reusable potable water. The proposed plan includes expanding the city’s recycled water distribution infrastructure so the reusable water could reach more businesses and households in the city.

Distributing recycled and reuse water would generate revenue for the city. Recycled water is in high demand by local farmers as a cheaper source for irrigation of their crops.

Phil Henry, who owns Henry Avocado Company and Henry Ranch, spoke in favor of the proposed recycled water plans.

“We are very supportive of your efforts to bring recycled water to our avocado groves,” he said.

Another local farmer said that having access to recycled water would save his business.

A new recycled water facility would generate about $20 million in revenues annually by 2030, according to city staff’s projections.

“The saving grace is really we’re spending a lot of money but we’re getting some revenue back,” said Councilmember Ed Gallo.

“It’s the clear and obvious choice and we need to move forward,” said councilmember Michael Morasco about the recycled and reuse water system proposal.

Mayor Sam Abed voiced strong concern about the debt the project would incur.

But city staff assuaged the mayor’s fears by assuring him that paying for the project phase by phase would be manageable.

“We would never anticipate putting the city in jeopardy,” said City Manager Clay Phillips.

City Council unanimously supported developing the plans for the recycled water and potable reuse project.

City staff was directed to explore how the city can pay for the project and plan out its construction. Staff will present each phase of the project to city council for approval before building begins.