East County Water-Recycling Project Could Be Delayed

East County Advanced Water Purification leaders say the city of San Diego is backing out of a signed deal

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A $950 million water recycling project in San Diego’s East County is in jeopardy.

“It’s not right," said Allen Carlisle, the administrator of the East County Advances Water Purification Joint Powers Authority. "It’s simply not right,”

The joint powers authority are trying to build the water recycling facility near Santee Lakes.

“We’re at the end of the pipeline here in San Diego,” Carlisle said with a shrug. "We need water.'

The project is expected to deliver roughly 30% of the drinking water for 500,000 East County residents by recycling wastewater. A groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled June 1.

“But we have this issue,” said Carlisle with a sigh. “We have a signed, executed agreement with the city of San Diego and at the 11th hour, they’re saying that ‘we’re not going to honor that agreement.’ "

Carlisle said the joint powers authority signed an agreement with the city of San Diego 18 months ago. The JPA is made up of the Padre Dam Municipal Water District, the city of El Cajon, the county of San Diego, and the Helix Water District. Carlisle said the agreement outlines the sale to the JPA of a pump station near state Route 52, who’s going to pay for a new pipeline to send leftover waste to a water treatment plant and what to do with that leftover waste when the pipeline is not available.

“And now, [the city of San Diego is] saying, ‘No, we changed our mind,’ ” Carlisle said through gritted teeth. “Very frustrated. Kind of mind-boggling.”

“I’m not surprised that he perhaps feels that way,” said Jay Goldstone, the city of San Diego’s chief operating officer. "We feel the opposite."

Goldstone argued that portions of the agreement violate state law, saying that the city's participation in the project would violate Proposition 218, which prohibits the city for paying for things that don't benefit the city’s ratepayers.

“This deal should have never been negotiated the way it was,” explained Goldstone. “The people that were involved in negotiating that, both in the city attorney’s office, as well as administration, are no longer with the city.”

Goldstone said the city and JPA have already resolved several key issues.

“We have resolved a methodology, and we resolved a funding source,” Goldstone said.

Goldstone said the parties still need to figure out where the leftover waste, known as residuals, will go if the new pipeline isn’t available. Goldstone said that the current agreement to pump it into San Diego’s future water recycling project would contaminate San Diego’s water supply.

“They theoretically could pump this brine back into the city’s water system and that’s what we’re trying to prevent,” Goldstone said.

Both officials said litigation could delay construction. However, Carlisle was confident the agreement signed 18 months ago would hold up in court.

“We’re going to find a way through this,” Carlisle said optimistically.

Carlisle said he wished the city of San Diego stuck with the deal the two sides signed.

“There’s no turning back," Carlisle said. "We are moving the project forward. We are excited about that."

The JPA has two more meetings scheduled with the city of San Diego this week. The groundbreaking for the water-purification facility is scheduled for 10 a.m. on June 1.

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