Committee looks for solutions to bring recycled water to Rancho Santa Fe

Rancho Santa Fe Association’s Committee on the Natural Environment (CONE) brought together an impressive collection of water experts on Jan. 26 to speak on the challenge of bringing recycled water to the Ranch via “the purple pipe.”

The meeting included representatives from several local agencies: Mike Bardin from the Santa Fe Irrigation District; Deb Plummer and Chuck Duffy from the RSF Community Services District; Al Castro and Tim Barrier from the RSF Golf Club; Kim Thorner and Joey Randall from the Olivenhain Municipal Water District; and Mike Thornton from the San Elijo Water Treatment Plant.

“This was the first meeting, just to get ideas out and start a dialogue for our future needs; to bring recycled water to the whole Covenant, not just the golf club, ” said Sioux Colbourne, a CONE member who helped bring all the “heavy hitters” to the table. “Solana Beach has (recycled water), why don’t we?”

Rancho Santa Fe Association board member Philip Wilkinson said it was important to bring everyone to begin to develop a road map and find solutions.

“Hopefully, over time, we’ll get to all kinds of solutions,” said CONE chair Bill Beckman. “Collaboration is what we need at this point. There are facilities and maybe things that are expensive, but we need to consider which resources are the best and figure out how to get funding. We will never have an opportunity like we have today … the timing is right.”

The committee plans to bring the same group together for another meeting in mid-March, yet to be scheduled.

The meeting was largely informational, with each agency providing an overview of its approaches to providing water to their constituency.

As Randall reported, the Olivenhain district delivers nearly 2 million gallons of recycled water daily. The district has just received bids of $8 million to $10 million to bring recycled water to the Village Park community of Encinitas. The hope is to construct 7.6 miles of pipelines to bring water to schools, parks, street landscaping, 19 homeowners associations’ common areas and golf course — Randall said the challenge, as always, is funding.

Bardin discussed the Santa Fe Irrigation District’s water supply: 30 percent comes from Lake Hodges, the local water supply they’ve had the rights to since the 1920s; 65 percent is imported; and 5 percent is recycled water.

Bardin said the district’s goal is to manage its supply as cost-effectively as possible, keeping their portfolio diverse and keeping the costs down.

“Our main imperative is to protect Lake Hodges,” Bardin said, noting that they have some of the lowest rates in the region primarily because of those local supplies.

He said water districts are entering a new era of developing alternative supplies at the local level rather than relying on imported water.

All of Solana Beach is on recycled water (all homeowners associations, medians, golf courses), and Bardin said they have been studying how to bring recycled water out to the RSF Golf Club for three decades.

“The reason it has never been done is because it’s very expensive,” he said of the $20 million project.

They have mapped out all target areas of big users, and Bardin said they couldn’t be more spread-out if they tried — the hope is to get a recycled-water anchor tenant like the golf course, and get a lot of the “big guys” off of that system.

The pipeline does exist, Bardin said, but they need to secure access to it and build a storage tank, preferably at the golf club.

“We’ve got this thing figured out; it’s the funding that we’re working on,” Bardin said, noting they are chasing $50 million of federal funding along with the 10 agencies in the North San Diego Water Reuse Coalition.

Bardin said the district is working on getting permits for private estate lots on the edge of Solana Beach for recycled water use. If approved, he said, that could open up a lot of doors to bring “purple pipe” to other properties in Rancho Santa Fe.

Thornton, the general manager of the San Elijo JPA, said they are working with the North San Diego Water Reuse Coalition to expand recycled water use and leverage existing infrastructure, and go after the federal funding as well as $5 million in state funding.

Through a main facility in Cardiff, the San Elijo JPA manages wastewater treatment for Encinitas and Solana Beach, and serves Santa Fe Irrigation District and OMWD as clients. Starting this year, it will handle wastewater treatment for Del Mar, which used to send its wastewater down to San Diego.

He said one of the issues that golf courses like Rancho Santa Fe have with the recycled water is its quality — Rancho Santa Fe’s water has a high salt content.

Thornton said San Elijo has constructed an advanced treatment program at the facility that can remove salt from the water, down to 850 milligrams — a number that Barrier from the RSF Golf Club seemed to be pleased about.

“Financing is still an issue, but the quality issue has been addressed to make sure it’s a viable solution,” Thornton said.

As reported by Duffy, the RSF Community Services District has two wastewater treatment plants: The Rancho Santa Fe plant and the Santa Fe Valley plant east of the Crosby. The Santa Fe Valley plant is the “blueprint,” Duffy said, as it has an advanced treatment system and its water is sold to the OMWD. The Rancho Santa Fe plant was built in the 1960s and doesn’t have the advanced treatment system.

Duffy said the water there is not being beneficially reused, and they have looked at upgrading it — at a cost of $1.5 million to $ 2 million.

Wilkinson noted that it’s really “hard to swallow” that none of that water is going back into the community.

Bardin asserted that the Rancho Santa Fe community really needs to get its water usage down before millions are spent on a recycled water project. He said there’s a “bull’s-eye” on Rancho Santa Fe for having high water usage, and he asked that community members do their part by thinking about their irrigation demands and making sure their use is efficient.

Barrier said the golf club has done many things to improve its water-use efficiency and many factors must be overcome.

“My first day here, we talked about recycled water. Twenty-three years later, I’m still going to meetings about recycled water,” Barrier said. “We’re open-minded. We’re willing to take on any of these projects.”

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