A $500 million dollar project to ensure East County communities have enough water for the future is currently undergoing a financial review, which could determine if the East County Advanced Water Purification Program moves forward.
The program would convert wastewater that goes down drains and toilets into purified drinking water.
The goal is to supply about 30 percent of the drinking water in East County by 2025, at a cost comparable to imported water.
The public is also being invited to comment on the environmental impact report for the project, which would build a full-scale water purification facility at the Padre Dam Municipal Water District in Santee.
Padre Dam Municipal Water District currently purchases all of its water from the San Diego County Water Authority.
"We have very little control of the water that comes from the water authority," said Mark Niemiec, engineering manager for Padre Dam Municipal Water District. "It comes from hundreds of miles away. And there are other effects like drought that we have very little control over. Here, we have a resource we have a little more control over and feel more reliable with respect to the resource that it's going to produce, which is the purified water."
The project calls for a new water recycling facility and a new advanced water purification plant to be built at the Padre Dam Municipal Water District site, in place of two ponds now used for seasonal storage.
The wastewater would be recycled and purified at the facilities before it is sent to Lake Jennings, which is operated by the Helix Water District.
"The purified water mixes in Lake Jennings and provides time and dilution before its treated again and distributed to the public," explained Brian Olney, Director of Water Quality and System Operations at the Helix Water District.
"Lake Jennings acts as the safety barrier for the water project," added Olney. "So if there's a failure at the wastewater treatment facility or pure water plant, there's a time delay in catching any errors."
The City of El Cajon would send about 95% of its wastewater to the new facilities in Santee. The County of San Diego would direct wastewater from Lakeside, Winter Gardens and Alpine to those facilities.
The four program partners are working out a joint powers agreement, which is tied to the financial plan. An independent consultant is currently reviewing that plan.
Olney said the partners should know by March 2019 if the project is financially feasible.
If the numbers work out, elected leaders in all four entities would need to approve the project.
Then, if the necessary permits are approved and regulations are met, construction on the facilities could begin in 2021, with the purified drinking water going to customers by 2025.
"The goal of the project is to go decades, 30 40, 50 years," said Kyle Swanson, director of operations for the project. "Ideally, it's cost competitive and it'll continue to run."
The public comment period for the project's environmental review is open until October 15.
On Tuesday, October 2nd, project partners are holding a meeting to answer questions from the public between 6 p.m. - 8 p.m. at the Padre Dam Municipal Water District office on 9300 Fanita Parkway in Santee.