Submitted by Daniel Swanson
Recently the City of Coronado released its draft Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) to go forward with its planned sewage treatment facility on the Golf Course. At a meeting on Jan. 21 this year Council was informed (item 5d) that at least 27 other CA municipalities had proposed the same type of project, and all realized that they were legally obligated to perform a complete Environmental Impact Report (EIR) in order to be compliant with California’s environmental law, CEQA. The City Manager replied that the City was likely to be sued if it produced a full EIR, and likely to be sued if it only did an MND, so why bother making the extra effort to do an EIR. By choosing to not do the full EIR, the City is avoiding addressing any other alternatives to building a sewage treatment plant. That project consists of building a sewage treatment plant on the golf course, and relocate a new turf maintenance building that will force all construction vehicles for over a year, and all of the maintenance lawn mowers, trucks, and worker vehicles forever, onto a path right in the middle of the course. The facility will pump sewage under 3rd and 4th streets into large pipes to be dug into the golf course, and in the process cross two major capable geologic faults; separate the sewage in a facility subject to soil liquefaction and flooding, removing water which in turn must be treated, including desalinization; and then pumping the remaining sewage back across the two faults to the city’s existing pipes close to the ferry landing. Using the City’s own data, the sewage plant will never pay for itself in reduced water costs. But there is more: the City must then spend millions of dollars to install “purple pipe” which is required to move the reclaimed water to the parks and street medians. Per the City’s agreement with Cal Am, those additional $millions, which the City did not include in its Feasibility Study, will be passed on to Coronado residents through their water bills.
Among the alternatives that the City has ignored is the one option already present beneath the golf course: a readily available source of water which could be accessed by wells. Councilman Sandke made an extremely harsh observation that it would take a “miraculous aquifer” to be a solution and “that thinking is plainly juvenile.” Yet exploration of this aquifer was exactly the conclusion of the Council’s contractor in the 2011 Recycled Water Feasibility Study by RBF. That Study concluded that Coronado overlies the San Diego Formation which is water of fairly large lateral extent in southwestern San Diego, somewhere between 450’ and 1180’ below ground (see pg. 5-11). The Study called out the potential use of this water for a treatment plant for the Coronado Golf Course, but noted the lack of data that existed regarding the depth of that water under the golf course, with only a shallow well having been dug at that time at the course. It thus recommended deeper well exploration to determine the feasibility of using that water. In fact, at least as early as 2012 there was hydrological data published about the Formation by the US Geological Survey and others, including two drilling wells on the Coronado Golf Course, showing more than a 600’ thick layer of water below the eastern end of the golf course. In a 2016 report, the San Diego Public Utilities Dept. relied on that data, and referred to this Formation as a regional aquifer.
This aquifer is much deeper than salt water found at a shallow depth which the Council easily dismissed as infeasible to use because of its salinity and because it is susceptible to sea water intrusion if pumped out. The City declined to dig a deeper well to see. The 2018 Feasibility Report did not follow up on the 2011 Report’s recommendation to explore the deeper aquifer, nor did it reference the previous USGS and SDPUD published data on the presence of the aquifer under the Golf Course. When the City engineers were asked why they did not explorer the aquifer, they said they didn’t want to spend money to drill a well to explore it.
But we don’t need to speculate whether the hypothetical use of this aquifer poses a “miracle” or a “juvenile” option, for San Diego explored this option, and found it to be very feasible. The Richard A. Reynolds Groundwater Desalinization Facility was built and operated in Chula Vista by the Sweetwater Authority jointly with the City of San Diego. It takes brackish water from the San Diego Formation and has the capacity of producing 10 million gallons per day of drinking water. The Chula Vista facility utilizes reverse osmosis, the same process proposed by Council for the golf course, but goes beyond what is needed for golf course or park watering. The Reynolds project has won awards, and as the Director of the SDPUD stated: the groundwater is quite a bit cheaper than imported water, it’s locally controlled and it is drought proof. The facility avoids the extremely costly and smelly process of handling sewage which Council is advocating.
Residents should contact Council to ask why they are afraid to consider alternatives to the expensive sewage plant.