Commission says San Diego can continue to pump sewage into ocean
The California Coastal Commission has agreed to allow San Diego to continue to pump 50 billion of gallons of partly-treated sewage deep into the Pacific Ocean each year, five miles off Point Loma, a decision San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders’ office called a victory for the city, it was reported Saturday.
Acting Friday in Santa Cruz, the Coastal Commission voted to allow San Diego to avoid any of the recommendations made by a $2 million study of wastewater recycling options, the newspaper reported Saturday.
The commission’s decision was a “victory for all San Diegans,” mayor’s spokesman Alex Roth told the San Diego Union-Tribune Friday.
Bruce Reznik, director of San Diego Coastkeeper, told the newspaper the city has promised to investigate recyclibng wastewater from the plant before it makes any commitments. He praised the city for pressing ahead with the study despite the uncertainty about the commission’s permit.
“I do think there is a level of accountability in just making sure they come back to the Coastal Commission,” Reznik said. “At that point, it’s up to groups like Coastkeeper and Surfrider to hold the city’s feet to the fire.”
The Coastal Commission removed language from San Diego’s coastal permits that suggested pumping more than 50 billion gallons a year of partly-treated sewage into the ocean could be causing environmental problems.
The study had examined adding expensive secondary sewage treatment to remove water from the sewage, and use it for landscaping at parks and golf courses. San Diego is the only major California city that is not required to use secondary treatment, and numerous coastal cities use expensive tertiary treatment to extract and recycle irrigation water from some of its sewer plants.
The facility processes sewage from more than 2.2 million people in and around the city and sends solids into the ocean. San Diego has used waivers from federal water and state coastal laws that require secondary sewage treatment, saying the $1.5 billion cost would bring few environmental benefits.
For decades, San Diego has argued that the deepwater sewage outfall and coastal currents off Point Loma allow the ocean there to absorb partially-treated sewage. Many biologists consider the solid human waste to substantially dissipate, and the organic material to be an important source of nutrition for animals low in the ocean food chain.
“It’s a very technical but very important issue,” Roth said. “We can’t get locked into agreeing to something when we don’t know what the conclusion is going to be. That would be irresponsible.”
The city is operating its Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant under a waiver from the U.S. Clean Water Act granted by the Coastal Commission in October. It is the city’s third waiver from meeting federal standards for “secondary” treatment of sewage.
Sanders agreed to the earlier study to explore how to use more wastewater for irrigation and other purposes instead of dumping it in the ocean. When terms of the permit waiver were drawn up, based on the commission’s October vote, city lawyers feared the wording would force San Diego to comply with recommendations from a study still underway. The study is expected to be completed in 2012.
The permit was altered Friday to remove requirements that the city reduce the volume of sewage not fully treated before discharge. Left in place were requirements that the city continue to investigate wastewater reclamation and recycling.
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