Increasing awareness of the need for water due to persistent drought. Significant and proven improvements in water purification technology. A concerted effort from environmental groups to save a precious resource. All these factors contributed to a major shift in thinking that led to the innovative water reuse program Pure Water San Diego.

The City of San Diego, with a population of 1.3 million and limited local water sources — not to mention an arid climate that produces less than 11 inches of rain per year — has developed a reliance on imported water. So when City leaders sat down to think about how to solve this problem, they thought about the big picture and came up with a 20-year plan to provide a safe, reliable and drought-proof local drinking water supply.

This One Water approach has put the eighth-largest city in the United States on the cutting edge of potable reuse.

Pure Water San Diego is water reuse and much more. The program began with an existing 1 million gallon per day demonstration facility open for public tours, innovative research on additional treatment barriers for a potential direct potable reuse project, and the development of new regulatory guidelines and legislation that will further enable reuse technologies to advance. An education and outreach effort was essential to the City’s success in building broad support from the public and the environmental community.

The City’s new vision for water is already under way. An initial 15 million gallon per day (average flow rate) water purification facility is planned to be in operation by 2023. The long-term goal, producing 83 million gallons of purified water per day (one-third of San Diego’s future drinking water supply), is expected by 2035.

Like most One Water solutions, Pure Water San Diego’s plan will achieve multiple objectives — recycling wastewater to reduce emissions to the Pacific Ocean and simultaneously creating a new sustainable source of water supply that is environmentally friendly, while enabling the City to be more water independent in the future.

Utilities and communities all over the country are beginning to show greater interest and investment in water reuse because water supplies are increasingly at risk, whether it’s water quality challenges, catastrophic events such as floods or earthquakes, or drought. Once the vision for Pure Water San Diego is realized and proves reuse to be a more efficient, cost-effective and reliable option, the City will be on the leading edge of large-scale, state-of-the-art potable reuse.

It’s exciting to know that Pure Water San Diego could be the beginning of a larger domino effect in reuse. Wherever there is water scarcity, especially in the West and Southwest, water managers are looking at all water as One Water, and San Diego is a leader in helping them see their water supplies differently. How will reuse (potable or otherwise) play a role in your community’s water future?


About the experts

Wendy Broley is a licensed professional engineer with over 14 years of experience in water and wastewater engineering and operations. As Brown and Caldwell’s Water Reuse leader, she works with clients to evaluate alternative water uses and develop diverse and resilient water portfolios.

Victor Occiano is BC’s Project Manager for the Pure Water Program. Brown and Caldwell has joined prime consultant MWH Global for the initial five-year, $30 million contract that includes program management services to move the Pure Water program from planning into implementation.

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