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North County Water Agencies Collaborate On Ambitious Recycling Plan

A sprinkler waters a California lawn.
Justin Sullivan
A sprinkler waters a California lawn.

Recycling waste water to drink is still controversial in San Diego, but recycling water for irrigation is not. One of the main hurdles is raising enough money to build a separate system of water pipes, known as "purple pipes," to carry the treated water.

North County Water Agencies Collaborate On Ambitious Recycling Plan
North County water agencies are in Washington today to apply for millions of dollars to recycle treated water for irrigation.

Ten North County water agencies are collaborating to design a system that would take treated water from the districts with treatment plants and pipe it to neighborhoods that could use it.

Within the next decade or so, the water agencies hope we will see whole neighborhoods refitted with special purple pipes. After all, about 60 percent of our domestic water use is outside.


Kimberly Thorner, general manager of the Olivenhain Water District, is one of those joining forces to apply for state and federal money to install an interconnecting system of purple pipes. She said Village Park in Encinitas would be a pilot project, but communities all over North County could be included.

“Ultimately we’re looking at 30 million gallons a day of recycled water,” she said, “That’s 30 million gallons a day that will be re-utilized locally so we don’t have to import it from Colorado or Colorado. “

That would free up enough drinking water to supply 75,000 households.

For comparison, the new Poseidon Desalination plant in Carlsbad has a contract to sell 50 million gallons of ocean water converted to drinking water each day. The recycling project would use existing treated water supplies on landscaping, rather than sprinkling drinking water on lawns.

Thorner said the delegation believes the Federal Water Resources Development Act is based on sources of funding not affected by sequestration. They will apply for up to $50 million in federal dollars, which would reduce the cost of the project to ratepayers.


Thorner said individual water districts would not be able to raise the funds for such an ambitious project, but collaborating as a North County region will be key to getting the money.

Corrected: June 16, 2024 at 8:57 PM PDT
The original version of this story said the Poseidon desalination plant would produce 300 million gallons of water a day. That is incorrect. The Posiedon plant will take in 300 milliom gallons of ocean water a day but will produce 50 million gallons of drinking water a day from that ocean water.
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