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News Releases from Region 09

U.S. EPA and California Propose Permit to Reduce San Diego Wastewater Discharges to the Ocean

Advanced treatment to reduce discharges, provide sustainable water source

Contact Information: 
U.S. EPA: Nahal Mogharabi (mogharabi.nahal@epa.gov)
San Diego RWQCB: David Gibson (david.gibson@waterboards.ca.gov)

SAN DIEGO - Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board proposed a City of San Diego wastewater discharge permit to increase ocean water quality protection and water reuse. The proposed permit for the City’s Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant would ensure that all federal and state water quality standards are met.

In 2014, the City and environmental organizations signed an agreement for the City to implement a potable water reuse plan. Known as Pure Water San Diego, this plan would eventually divert up to 83 million gallons of Point Loma wastewater per day from ocean discharges to an advanced water purification facility. Once built, the facility would send highly purified water to augment local drinking water reservoirs or other reuse projects.

“San Diego has made a commitment to reduce pollutant discharges through its ocean outfall,” said Alexis Strauss, EPA’s Acting Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “Today’s proposal furthers EPA and the State’s longstanding priority of taking action to protect Southern California’s coastal waters.”

“Building on previous work by the city, U.S. EPA and the San Diego Water Board, this permit and the Pure Water Program measures it includes represent a major step forward in protecting the health of our coastal waters while also increasing our community’s drought resilience,” said David Gibson, executive officer for the San Diego Water Board. “In terms of its development with the community, its goals, and specific requirements, this permit is a model for an outcome-based regulatory approach in California and the nation.”

The Regional Water Board jointly issues National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits with EPA to ensure that all applicable water quality standards are met in federal and state waters. The proposed permit maintains requirements to meet water quality standards for the next five years and includes elements of the Pure Water San Diego program to reduce ocean discharges and increase water reuse.

During the past decade, flows and pollutant discharges from the Point Loma plant have decreased steadily. Sediment discharges, for example, declined 25%. Over the next five years, the new permit requires the City to complete the planning, design, and environmental review for the infrastructure to implement its Pure Water reuse project. Construction of advanced water treatment facilities will enable the City to begin reusing highly treated wastewater within 10 years.

The City of San Diego must apply for a permit renewal every five years and is required to meet secondary treatment levels. EPA may grant a modification of these standards for ocean discharges if federal and state water quality standards are met. The Point Loma plant has been operating under such a modification since 1995, consistently meeting or exceeding federal and state discharge requirements.

For the next 60 days, the agencies are seeking public comment on the draft permit, including EPA’s tentative decision to continue waiving secondary wastewater treatment requirements for the City, based upon the plant’s current performance and commitments to implement advanced treatment and water reuse.

The Pure Water San Diego program reflects an integrated water planning approach supported by EPA, the State of California, and members of the local community, businesses, and citizen groups. Under the program, the City will invest in an advanced water purification facility to turn wastewater into a resource that helps meet the water supply needs of the region, reduces the need for imported water, and helps address ocean water quality by reducing discharges. 

To comment on the draft National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit, visit: https://www.epa.gov/region9/water/npdes/pubnotices.html

For more information on EPA Region 9’s tentative decision on the Clean Water Act 301(h) waiver, visit: https://www.epa.gov/region9/water/npdes/permits.html

For more information on the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board’s draft NPDES permit, visit: http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/sandiego/