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Group: Water re-use could expand within 5 years

The San Diego region could be just five years away from a wastewater re-purification boom, according to the Water Reliability Coalition.

The reason, co-founder Lani Lutar said, is a combination of things.

When the city of San Diego kicked of its water purification demonstration project in 2011 and came back a year later with positive results, Lutar said, there was no mechanism for regulating how full-scale re-use projects should be built.

That's still the case now, but Lutar said things are likely about to change with a local advocate taking over as speaker of the California Assembly.

Water Reliability Coalition, formed in 2008, held an event Thursday evening in downtown San Diego to recognize some consistent advocates of water re-use and let others know what the group says is on the horizon.

Toni Atkins, the state Assembly's newly-elected speaker, gave her perspective.

"In Sacramento, these days, there really is not a day that goes by that we're not talking about water," Atkins said. "We have been working toward a water bond every year it seems to figure out what we can put on the ballot that the voters will have an appetite for, so that we can deal with our infrastructure up and down the state."

Atkins said the state is at an "incredible moment" at which everything needed to move water re-use forward has a chance to come together -- but it will be her job to get the word to other legislators of San Diego's model for water projects.

The idea that San Diego takes all of its water from Northern California still floats around the state capitol, despite the advances it's made since the droughts of the 1990s, Atkins said.

As the new Assembly speaker, Atkins said she'll have a chance to highlight the region's supply diversification and its overall reduction in water use by 27 percent during a time of population growth.

"This will to be a critical year, because as we have looked at spending $680 million … to get shovel-ready projects going, to do a number of things, we also have to look at that bond measure, to make sure that we're looking at promoting types of storage and the things that we've done here locally," Atkins said. "I'm in a pivotal role. This is one of those issues where it really isn't about Republicans or Democrats. It's really about region … and issues — whether we're talking about storage or groundwater, or any of those various pieces of water."

Lutar said that Atkins' new role comes as up to nine of the area's water districts are either now or in the process of starting water re-use demonstration projects.

The confluence of new legislative leadership and expanded interest, she said, sets the region on a path to becoming a water re-use leader within five years.

One of the local agencies getting involved is the Padre Dam Municipal Water District, which was recognized with an award at the event by the Water Reliability Coalition for its efforts.

The district's Advanced Water Treatment Demonstration Project began in late 2013, with the expectation to produce about 100,000 gallons of fresh water per day for demonstration and testing purposes.

Expected to be complete in summer 2016, the project is being funded through a $3 million state grant.

Ultimately, the district wants it to lead to a full-scale project which will actually produce drinking water.

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