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South Bay Water Recycling Public Forum -- June 16, 1999

Reported and written by Scott Scholz - June 17, 1999

Last night at the Southside Community Center, city employees from the Environmental Services Department, members of the South Bay Water Recycling project and many water district representatives made themselves available to the community to explain water treatment and recycling. After introductions, Dan Beerman of ESD gave a presentation overview of water use, water treatment and water recycling. Current projections for the next decade show that the city could be short up to 100,000 acre feet of potable water which is the equivalent of about 100,000 homes in another drought year. In 1990, the Regional Water Quality Control Board set a limit of treated water into south San Francisco Bay at 120 million gallons per day during the months of May through October. While the water pollution control plant is treating up to 167 million gallons per day, the city is discharging about 110 million gallons per day (mgpd) of recycled water into the bay.

There are several consequences if the city exceeds the discharge limit. The city can be fined. There could be a moratorium imposed on all new construction projects which would significantly impact the city’s economic vitality. They could restrict any additional toilet hook-ups to the sewer system. The discharge is also impacting the marsh habitat in the south bay converting it to a fresh water habitat instead of a salt water habitat which is threatening the salt marsh harvest mouse and the California clapper rail. However, it is not all gloom and doom. In 1991, San Jose’s action plan went into effect and in 1997 the South Bay Water Recycling project went online. 60 miles of pipe have been constructed through parts of San Jose, Santa Clara and Milpitas delivering up to 10 mgpd of recycled water to several large users of water such as Silver Creek Country Club, an urban farm and the San Francisco 49er’s training facility in Santa Clara.

There are benefits to finding as many uses for the recycled water where potable drinking water is currently being used. The recycled water is drought proof and provides a reliable and sustainable water supply for non potable water use. Using recycled water promotes economic vitality. Large users of water can purchase recycled water about 30% cheaper than potable water. As recycled water displaces potable water, our drinking water supply is saved. Now that phase I is in operation, the SBWR has been identifying potential large water user customers and talking up the benefits of using recycled water. The first question usually asked is "How much does recycled water cost?" The obvious large water potential customers are golf courses, cemeteries, parks and schools. Phase II must determine how to get the water to the large water users.

In the Master Plan for phase II are several considerations. There will be more pipeline construction which will require more money. I believe the figure I heard was about $90 million dollars where phase I cost about $140 million dollars. There will be more diverse customers using this reliable water supply which is the best use of this valuable resource. Although recycled water is being used in parts of the state and country for drinking water, the city is not considering it at this time. However, the city does believe it can be explored for the future.

Community Input

The community was asked to provide feedback on a few topics which was the real purpose for convening the meeting. The questions asked were:

  1. What matters most to you about your water supply?
  2. List any benefits that you and your community may stand to gain with recycled water:
  3. List any concerns that you or your community may have about recycled water:
  4. Are there other uses for recycled water that have not been discussed or considered?

In addition, the community was asked if we were concerned that bringing recycled water further south into our region will promote growth in our region?

Impact on our community (Santa Teresa, Blossom Valley and Coyote Valley)

Much of the future development, both industrial and residential, will be in the southern part of the city. Coyote Valley could be on the verge of large-scale future development. The master plan for Phase II already includes the Coyote Valley where the recycled water pipeline could come down as far as Palm Avenue. Although the master plan doesn’t specifically state where the new construction of the pipeline will be located, Monterey Highway and Santa Teresa Boulevard have been identified as the most logical place for the Phase II pipeline into this region. With several golf courses and potential construction projects in this area, our community has an opportunity to be a large recycled water user. The pumping facilities constructed in Phase I are already capable of pumping water to the Coyote Valley region. Only the Phase II recycled water pipeline is required to bring it to Coyote Valley. Once Phase II gets off of the drawing board, construction wouldn’t begin for 18 months as the design, Environmental Impact Report and bidding process takes that long. Once construction starts it would take 12 to 18 months and possibly 24 months if pump stations are required. Adding it all up, it would be over three years before recycled water could be delivered to this region.

The proposed power plant in Coyote Valley isn’t even reflected in the SBWR master plan. The pipeline has already been identified to come down to this region without the power plant project. Calpine would not be expected to pay for the construction of the recycled water pipeline. In fact, the SBWR has reviewed the proposed power plant application documents and has raised some issues. Some of the issues deal with the content of the recycled water as it is dumped back into the sewer system after they use it. Although Calpine would be the largest customer to date based on today’s customer base, by the time the recycled water pipeline comes to the Coyote Valley region, they would be one of many customers in the region responsibly using recycled water instead of our very precious and limited drinking water supply.

A new feedback topic has been created to discuss this project.

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