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Environment

North County Leaders Thirst For Drought Remedies

The North County Water Summit, put on by San Diego North Economic Development Council. July 16 2015
Alison St John
The North County Water Summit, put on by San Diego North Economic Development Council. July 16 2015

North County Leaders Thirst For Drought Remedies
Leaders gathered at a North County Water Summit in Vista, searching for ways to address the drought in the region.

It was a full house at a North County Water Summit Thursday, put on by the San Diego North Economic Development Council at the Vista Civic Center.

Recycling: Purple pipe or potable?

Michael Thornton of the San Elijo Joint Powers Authority described how a group of 10 water agencies — the North San Diego Water Reuse Coalition — is working together to make it easier to distribute recycled water. They cover the area between state Route 56 and Camp Pendleton.

Thornton said the coalition already recycles 3.5 billion gallons a year back to North County neighborhoods through purple pipes, and hopes to double that in 10 years.

That kind of recycling is less common in the city of San Diego, he said.

“In North County, because our treatment plants — our reclamation facilities — are spread out through the communities, it’s easier for us to get the recycled water back to the immediate community in a purple pipe system,” Thornton said.

But North County is looking to the city of San Diego to lead the way on recycling to drinking water standards.

If San Diego moves to potable reuse in the next five years, North County residents can expect to be drinking recycled water in the next 10 years, Thornton said.

“As science and technology advances, I believe potable use will become the dominant water mechanism,” he said.

The coalition’s website says the goal is to build seven potable reuse sites by 2025.

Desalination

Recycling seawater to potable standards will be another important element of San Diego County Water Authority’s strategy to handle future droughts. The new desalination plant, due to come online in Carlsbad later this year, will provide at least seven percent of the whole county’s water supply.

Business, agriculture and construction

James Kasselmann of Gilead Sciences said water availability is why biotech companies have chosen to be in Oceanside.

Kasselmann described the stringent purification his company uses and said Gilead is considering reusing the water it buys in its cooling towers.

Gary Arant of the Valley Center Water District said the amount of water used by agriculture in San Diego — much of it in North County — is less than half what it was in 2007.

Arant said farmers are coming up with all kinds of strategies to survive: hydroponics, planting avocado trees closer together, and developing more drought tolerant root stocks. Agriculture still makes a $5 billion contribution to the region’s economy.

Borre Winckel, president of the Building Industry Association in San Diego, said new housing construction is not keeping up with population growth.

New houses are more water efficient and use half the water that older homes use, Winckel said.

What the region needs is not to stop building new homes, Winckel said, but to provide more incentives to retrofit older homes with water efficient toilets and drought tolerant landscaping.