Metro Wastewater

 My compliments to you. . . if you reached this tab, you are drilling down farther than most people go. Deep breath, wall of text below:

One of the lesser appreciated roles Councilmembers play is to represent Poway on the governing boards of regional agencies.  I am:

  1. Board member of the Metropolitan Transit System
  2. Commissioner on the Metropolitan Wastewater Joint Powers Agency
  3. I chair the Finance Committee of the Metro JPA  

One of the accomplishments of the Metro JPA is has been to initiate and promote the program that has come to be known as the Pure Water Project.     

I know wastewater is not an exciting topic to many, but the capital costs associated with wastewater treatment plants run into the billions and Poway’s share of these costs run into the millions.  The plan described below may avoid spending $300,000,000 of the taxpayer’s money.   

Poway does not process its own wastewater, but instead joins 11 other jurisdictions - cities, the County of SD and wastewater districts - in a Joint Powers Authority, the Metro JPA.  The mission of the JPA is to create an equitable partnership with the City of San Diego on wastewater issues.  In 2012, I became Poway’s representative to the JPA.   

Most of San Diego’s wastewater is processed at the Point Loma Treatment plant, which is owned and operated by the City of San Diego.  The plant is approved to process 240 million gallons per day.  It uses a chemically enhanced treatment process, also known as “advanced primary” treatment.  Other coastal cities have been required by federal legislation to upgrade their plants to secondary treatment. 

Secondary treatment removes 90% of total dissolved solids where San Diego’s advanced primary removes about 86%.   

Treatment plant permits must be renewed every 5 years by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.  Because the advanced primary process approaches the standards of secondary treatment, and because the physical constraints at the Point Loma plant make the cost to upgrade it to secondary high, San Diego has successfully received waivers to the requirement to upgrade to secondary. 


San Diego’s current permit expired in 2015 and indications were clear that another waiver would not be received.  Indications were also clear that San Diego was, nonetheless, preparing to request another waiver. 

In 2013, the chair of the Metro JPA, Cheryl Cox, established an ad hoc subcommittee to develop and promote a strategy to use established technology to recycle water in lieu of processing it at Point Loma.  I served on this subcommittee along with elected officials from Coronado, Imperial Beach and staff representatives from several wastewater districts and cities, including Poway.   

In its simplest terms, the plan is to recycle 83 million gallons per day per day, thereby off-loading Point Loma by the same amount.  This will also create a new source of potable water for the region and attain “secondary equivalency” by permanently reducing the total quantity of dissolved solids that are released through the Point Loma outfall.   

This strategy was eventually embraced by the City of San Diego and is being actively promoted as the Pure Water Project.  At the September 18 City Council meeting, the Council approved a new wastewater agreement that resulted from the implementation of the Pure Water Project.  All indications are that the plan will be implemented and that the region will avoid hundreds of millions of capital wastewater costs and provide a new source of potable water for the region.