Federal and state regulators will allow San Diego to avoid upgrading its outdated wastewater treatment plant as long as the city continues to pursue a $3 billion water recycling program.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board on Monday approved the city's permit application to operate the Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant for another five years despite it being the only facility of its kind not to meet federal standards.
The permit waiver is part of a longstanding deal between city officials, regulators and members of the environmental community aimed at freeing up money to pay for a water recycling program called Pure Water San Diego.
"This is huge for San Diego because we'll be able to avoid unnecessary and expensive upgrades at the Point Loma plant and can instead invest those dollars to create an independent, drought-proof water supply for our residents," Mayor Kevin Faulconer said in a statement reported the Union-Tribune newspaper.
Independent scientific studies have shown that while discharges into the Pacific Ocean from the wastewater plant do not always meet secondary treatment standards, releases have little to no impact on the surrounding marine environment.
The city has been repeatedly granted the EPA waiver since 1995, allowing the local government to forego a roughly $2 billion overhaul of the site.
In July, Pure Water got another major boost when the U.S. government announced the city was chosen for a low-interest loan program expected to bring in about $492 million to jump start the program, according to the newspaper.
The Pure Water project is scheduled to break ground in 2018 and generate a third of San Diego's drinking water by 2035.