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Irrigation District to launch study

REGION — The board of directors at the Santa Fe Irrigation District agreed to move forward with a concept study to assess the utilization of advanced water purification techniques. What this means is converting recycled wastewater into an innovative and high quality purification process for potable water.

The price tag for this study is $120,000.  However, the total cost is not being shouldered by the Santa Fe Irrigation District. It’s being equally divided among the Santa Fe Irrigation District, San Dieguito Water District and San Elijo Joint Powers Authority.

The study will unveil the costs of a potential future project(s) as well as its feasibility.

While the water supply is originally initiated at San Elijo Joint Powers Authority, the organizations which own what is described by the District as “major components of the potential project infrastructure,” are the Santa Fe Irrigation District and San Dieguito Water District.

According to Michael Bardin, general manager of the Santa Fe Irrigation District, the study will take roughly six months to complete. He also noted how there are efforts across the state to develop alternate supply resources.

When addressing the Colorado River and the State Water Project, Bardin said those are the core supplies that California and Southern California has utilized for the last 70 to 80 years.

“When those supplies are tapped out with the growth we’ve had in Southern California, environmental regulations in the Delta in Northern California and then you couple that with a drought, those supplies are becoming increasingly unreliable,” Bardin said.  “So what’s happening across the state and all the way down to our level is folks are trying to develop alternative supplies.”

Bardin went on to say that right now the San Diego region has a desalination plant being built in Carlsbad that should come online next year. It is expected to provide 7 percent of the region’s supply of drought proof water.

And this project, he said, has cost almost a billion dollars.

“The challenge we have is the inexpensive water has pretty much been used up. So these alternative supplies that we look at, desalination is very expensive because of the energy component, but as a regional project as part of the water supply portfolio, it’s reasonable to have a portion of the supply portfolio come from desalination,” he said.  “In Santa Fe, we have been using recycled water for almost 15 years for irrigation in the western side of our service area; primarily the City of Solana Beach and the golf courses, Caltrans, and I call that purple pipe water.”

Bardin explained that purple pipe water gets treated and it’s non-waste water that would normally be taken out to the ocean, but some of it gets treated to a little higher level for irrigation. Bardin underscored purple pipe water is not suitable for human consumption.

“We’ve been doing that for 15 years,” he said.

Public health officials in the State of California, Bardin pointed out, are moving at a pretty fast pace to develop the regulations to take highly treated wastewater only used for irrigation and transform it through a much more advanced purification processes.

For the Santa Fe Irrigation District and its partners, rather than continually investing in purple pipe irrigation water, the goal is to take an in-depth look around the country and globe to tap into novel expertise in this area.

The mission is to find an alternate way that is drought proof, locally controlled, and competitively cost-wise.

“We’re looking to say let’s step back a second and take a look at potable reuse as a viable option for our agencies to explore because the regulations are changing.  We want to understand them. We know the technology exists,” he said.

While implementing such a project may be 5 to 10 years away, it needs to be researched.

“We have to look at planning on those horizons because our lifestyle, our landscapes, our recreation, our health, and our economy all depend on a reliable water supply,” Bardin said.