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San Diego: Save Water, Drink Sewage–and Pay More

San Diego’s City Council ruled this week that residents will soon be drinking recycled sewage, and paying for the pleasure of doing so. The council is raising water rates 16 per cent to pay for a new sewage recycling plant and a desalination plant in Carlsbad.

The plans for the sewage plant, which will cost taxpayers $3.5 billion, passed by a 7-2 vote, with environmental groups strongly backing the initiative.

Critics have argued that the tax rises are too steep, and too fast, but residents will no doubt also harbour concerns about the parts per million in the water of steroids, pharmaceutical by-products, and disinfectants in the water.

Council President Sherri Lightner told the San Diego Tribune: “We need to take control of our water destiny….This is our opportunity to responsibly plan for our future. We know that developing local water supplies is costly, but it’s much more expensive to continue to rely so heavily on imported water.”

The city is calling the project “Pure Water.”

Opponents argue that the taxes raised for the project will actually only fund around one-twentieth of it, and therefore the tax rises are unnecessary.

“This is an unfair rate structure overall,” said Councilman David Alvarez, adding: “Even though [residents have] done the right thing, they are going to see an increase in their water rate.”

From June to October, regional water consumption dropped 26 per cent compared to the regional baseline for 2013. So even though residents have decreased water consumption, they are now going to be penalized further.

California has been at the forefront of the recycled water activism, with Orange County, Pasadena, and now San Diego pioneering the effort. The only other countries known to participate in such activities for the sake of drinking water are Singapore, Israel, and a small area in Belgium.

Speaking on Israel’s extensive water recycling network, engineer Adam Strauss told journalists in 2010: “I’m not going to try to convince you to drink this… [t]here’s a psychological barrier, a person should not drink sewage.”

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