The East County Advanced Water Purification Program was awarded a $388 million loan from the United States Environmental Protection Agency recently to help finance a project in which recycled water undergoes a multi-step filtration process to essentially increase the local supply of water.
Program Director Kyle Swanson said the program is “a way to create a sustainable, drought-proof source of water” based on purifying East County’s recycled water that will reduce the need to import water from other regions such as Colorado and Northern California while simultaneously creating environmentally-friendly jobs.
In addition to supplying locals with fresh water, the program eliminates the need to discard most of East County’s used water for treatment and subsequent discharge into the ocean.
Currently undergoing testing at a small-scale Santee facility, the full program, when complete, is expected to generate up to 11.5 million gallons of drinking water per day, or 30% of the demand for East County residents.
Padre Dam Municipal Water, the City of El Cajon, Helix Water District and the County of San Diego are working together “as one team” Swanson said and will likely begin building out the full-scale facility in February 2022 and start producing water in 2025.
Communications Manager Melissa McChesney said a similar system is in place in Orange County but relies on just two partners— their sanitation department and their water district— which share a fence line and can be more easily integrated; the system being set up in East County is unique with a wider scope and four partner agencies.
Environmental Protection Agency Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Office of Water Radhika Fox said the water purification project is “a model for the region” and one that will serve the area well as it enters the next inevitable mega-drought.
The local program was one of less than 40 projects selected nationwide for a water infrastructure investment loan.
“Investing in water infrastructure is one of the best bets we can deliver to our nation… I want to thank you on behalf of President Biden,” Fox said, then presented a symbolic check to program leaders.
After the presentation, Swanson gave tours of the on-site test and demonstration facility, explained the process used in treating recycled water so it is potable.
An initial filtration removes large particles from the water before it is passed on to a reverse osmosis system that eliminates chemicals and pharmaceuticals. Then, the water passes through an ultraviolet filter and finally, the water is injected with chlorine that prevents it from reacting to the pipes it travels through on its way to the Lake Jennings reservoir.
Eventually, it will get treated at the Levy water treatment plant before being distributed as drinking water.
“This reduces the need for imports and creates a supply for up to 30% of our residents without taking water out of a different ecosystem,” Swanson said.
That distinction, keeping water local, is a key point of the project as it not only serves the environment but also reduces the cost of water as the supply does not have to travel to get to East County— it is water that already was in the area and is treated for re-use.
“The work we’re doing today will ensure future generations have clean, safe drinking water,” Swanson said.