Brown signs bill to boost SD 'toilet-to-tap' plans

By Micheal Gardner, San Diego Union-Tribune, 10/8/13

SACRAMENTO — In a rare signing message, Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday came out forcefully in favor of a San Diego County Water Authority push to turn wastewater into drinking water dubbed by critics as “toilet-to-tap.”

Carried by Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, the measure directs state agencies to start the process of bringing uniformity to water reuse rules. It gives the Department of Public Health, working with the State Water Resources Control, until Sept. 1, 2016 to issue a draft feasibility report.

“California needs more high quality water and recycling is key to getting there,” Brown said in his signing message, one of only a handful he has issued while signing hundreds of bills.

Brown suggested that the measure’s deadline is too lenient. He said he is directing the state water board to “work expeditiously.” “The three-year time frame mandated in this bill is too slow,” he said.

Water reuse has been under extensive study in San Diego County as authorities work to find ways to protect public health and gain public acceptance. Critics have questioned whether wastewater can ever be made completely safe to drink.

The water authority estimates that it could create 100,000 acre feet of “drought proof” water a year — enough for 200,000 homes — by implementing aggressive reuse projects.

“This legislation ensures thorough scientific review of potable reuse will be done in a timely, open and transparent manner to safeguard our water supplies as we look to expand them through recycling,” said Toby Roy, a water resources manager for the authority.

The measure, Senate Bill 322, calls for an expert panel and advisory groups to study the best course for regulating wastewater-to-drinking-water and then submit those recommendations to the two state agencies for review. The studies would be funded by water agencies.

In a statement, Hueso said “finding ways to increase abundance of water in California is certainly challenging, but very doable.” Hueso added his Senate Bill 322 “will improve the way California looks at water quality and water use.” The city of San Diego, after a successful test project, is working on a plan to release advanced treated purified wastewater into a raw water aqueduct upstream of a facility that treats water before it’s delivered to home taps.