COAST CITIES — The same water that pours out of a tap sustains avocado groves throughout Henry Avocado Company in Escondido, owned by Phil Henry.
Over the past five years, the price of water has shot up, along with Henry’s cost of doing business. It would be cheaper to irrigate with recycled water. But there’s one problem — it’s not an option.
“Recycled water isn’t currently offered in this part of Escondido,” Henry said. “Potable is what we have to use — it’s expensive.”
But Escondido is planning to build a $6 million pipeline, set to debut in 2015, that would redirect water bound for an ocean outflow and convert it into recycled water for avocado farms in the eastern portion of the city. Part of the funding is coming from the new North County Regional Recycled Water Project, a collaboration between 10 water agencies. The project is looking to beef up infrastructure for recycled water in Escondido, as well as the rest of the region.
“Beyond the Escondido pipeline, we want to link up water districts in North County by identifying who has a need for recycled water and who in the region could provide it,” said Chris McKinney, director of utilities for Escondido.
“It’s a new way of doing things for us,” he added.
This borderless approach required a change in thinking. In the past, agencies primarily looked within their own jurisdictions for all their needs, including recycled water. The project, however, aims to connect the agencies that have a demand for recycled water with facilities in North County that can supply it.
McKinney noted that recycled water is 20 percent cheaper than potable water in his district. Eventually, as more recycled water is produced, it could be 30 to 40 percent less expensive. And if enough people switch to recycled water, the price of potable water could also drop as the demand for it falls, he said.
Recycled water is wastewater that’s been treated, and it’s fit for industrial or irrigation uses for farms, golf courses and school grounds. Currently, much of the wastewater in North County is treated and pumped out to the ocean through large outfalls, which is a costly process. Under the collaboration, more wastewater headed for the sea would be diverted and ultimately become recycled water through extra treatment.
The San Elijo Joint Powers Authority, a wastewater treatment center, built a facility that transforms more of its wastewater into recycled water. The North County Regional Recycled Water Project secured nearly $90,000 of the $5 million project.
“Before, a lot of this water was treated and just went to the ocean,” said Mike Thornton, general manager of the San Elijo Joint Powers Authority. “We have more wastewater than our system can handle and so we’re going through that extra step to provide additional recycled water to other districts. We send less to the ocean and they get recycled water — a win-win.”
The new facility, which treats water with filters and reverse osmosis and is set to debut this summer, has the ability to eventually produce more than one million gallons per day on average of recycled water. The San Elijo Joint Powers Authority inked a deal to supply the Olivenhain Municipal Water District as well as other water districts it already serves with the recycled water.
Bringing more recycled water to districts entails building miles of special pipes. Kimberly Thorner, general manager of the Olivenhain Municipal Water District, said in the next five years the pipes could supply Village Park and other places in the northern part of her district, where recycled water currently isn’t available. Within a few decades, the pipes would interconnect much of North County, she said.
If all goes as planned, the project would add 30 million gallons of recycled water per day to North County’s portfolio. As a reference point, the Carlsbad desalination plant will generate 50 million gallons of drinkable water once it opens.
“We’ve (the water districts) worked together on projects before, but never on a grand scale like this,” Thorner said.
Thorner added that banning together has given the water agencies more clout when applying for state and federal funding. So far, the collaboration has secured about $5 million for pipes and treatment facilities, and it’s aggressively pursuing other sources. Notably, representatives from the project will travel to Washington, D.C. in the coming weeks to apply for up to $50 million in federal funding.
“On their own, water districts probably couldn’t apply for some of these grants,” Thorner said.
San Diego imports more than 70 percent of its water. Ultimately, recycled water could mean bringing in less water from outside areas.
“We’ll have a new local supply of water to work with,” Thorner said. “And this could free up potable water throughout the agencies.”