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San Diego optimistic about federal legislation to streamline permit for Point Loma sewage plant

The Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant
The Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant is pictured in 2014.
(File)

Long-awaited exemption from having to get a Clean Water Act waiver every five years would save taxpayers money and end years of wrangling with environmental groups.

Long-awaited federal legislation exempting San Diego from having to get a Clean Water Act waiver every five years has a strong chance of being approved this year, according to city officials.

The legislation, which is required for the Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant, was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives 395-4 in November. But the Senate didn’t vote to approve it.

With a new Congress in place, Rep. Scott Peters (D-La Jolla) plans to introduce the legislation again in coming weeks, said Adrian Granda, director of government affairs for San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria.

The legislation, called the Ocean Pollution Reduction Act II, would save taxpayers millions by essentially exempting the city from the Clean Water Act.

It would replace the city’s complex and expensive federal waiver application for the Point Loma plant with a much simpler process. That could end years of wrangling over the waiver among federal officials, environmental groups and the city.

If federal officials ever deny the waiver and force San Diego to upgrade the plant, that cost could exceed $2 billion, city officials say.

The Clean Water Act requires most water agencies to treat sewage twice before releasing into a bay, an ocean or some other body of water.

San Diego officials have argued that the city shouldn’t have to meet the Clean Water Act’s requirements for a “secondary” treatment of sewage at the Point Loma plant for two main reasons.

The city uses a tube called an “outfall” to discharge the treated sewage 4½ miles into the ocean, where it can be dispersed effectively enough to have minimal impact on wildlife.

And San Diego is spending roughly $5 billion to build a sewage recycling system that is expected to provide one-third of the city’s water supply by 2035. That system, called Pure Water, will reduce daily discharge from Point Loma by 100 million gallons.

To become exempt from secondary treatment and be eligible for the simplified federal waiver, San Diego must demonstrate that Pure Water can deliver on its promises and sharply reduce discharge from Point Loma.

Construction of the system is expected to kick into high gear this year.

Supporters of the legislation say it would not weaken the Clean Water Act, modify any other federal environmental rules or change any state regulations.


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