“This project is incredible.”
That’s a ringing endorsement from a representative of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which just awarded a $388 million low-interest loan to the East County Advanced Water Purification Program. The program will use that money to build a permanent and much larger version of their purification system near Santee Lakes.
“[The system] will create a new local water supply for East County, at a price that’s comparable to imported, comparable or lower, and we’re hoping to get to that lower point,” said Padre Dam CEO and General Manager Allen Carlisle.
Carlisle said once construction on the system is completed in 2025, it will turn more than 11 million gallons of recycled “purple pipe” water into clean drinking water every day. He said that’s roughly 30% of the East County’s drinking water.
Right now, water districts like Padre Dam, Helix, and the City of El Cajon pay to import most of their water.
“Our water comes from 200 miles away with the Colorado River,” said Carlisle. “600 miles away from the Bay Delta.”
“What’s happening here in San Diego is really a model for the nation. We at EPA believe that it’s really critical to invest in local water supplies,” said Radhika Fox, the EPA’s Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for Water.
Fox said the low interest loan will ultimately save the program $130 million in construction costs. The $388 million loan is the EPA's largest loan awarded in San Diego's East County.
“And this project couldn’t be coming at a better time given the drought,” she said.
“We’re in for a difficult drought and they will keep coming. The question isn’t if we’re going to have another drought. It’s when?” added Carlisle.
He said the most recent report on California’s snowpack is 0% of what it should be this time of year. Carlisle said that underlines the importance of locally-generated drinking water.