The Return of the Santee Aquifer

Santee has an aquifer that is all but dried up, but could be used as local underground storage for up to 10 percent of the city's water needs.

There’s a great big dry hole under Santee, just next to and north of Town Center.

Well, not totally dry- it still has some of what it used to have a lot of:


This aquifer used to be the source of almost all the water in Santee-- the spot where wells were drilled, and ground water accessed for drinking and whatever else we needed it for.

That was before the construction of .

When the water that used to flow normally downhill to the west during rainy season was captured by El Cap, the aquifer started to run very, very low.

What we have there now is an aquifer with not much water in it, but an aquifer that presents a good opportunity for to pump highly into and save for our use.

“We could see the possibility of pumping three million gallons of water a day into that aquifer- highly treated recycled water that would blend with ground water and eventually become potable, drinkable water for us,” said Padre Dam engineering director Albert Lau.

“And the Feds are very interested in this as well”, Lau said. “They would partner with us in this, to see if it’s as feasible as we think it is.”

The “Feds,” in this case, is the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation.

We need to face some facts here, and some of them are not pleasant to contemplate.

Yes, it’s going to cost money if this project goes ahead.

It's not going to cost NEARLY what our share would be of the $3 billion- with a “b”- cost of the City of San Diego having to upgrade the Point Loma Sewage Treatment plant at the orders of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal courts.

Yes, we are going to have to pay for it.

There would have to be , with the money going to upgrade our water treatment facilities to the highest possible standard, as well as build a pipeline from to the injection wells that would put the recycled water back into the aquifer.

But, what we’d be buying with that money is at least 10 percent of our daily water needs being met right here in Santee, as opposed to helping San Diego pay its cost, and us getting nothing out of it except a pat on the back- maybe.

There is a lot of testing to be done- there is a possibility that the groundwater in the aquifer now is so bad that it can’t be used at all- that would pretty much kill the idea quickly.

But Lau and Amy Witherall, the project manager from the Bureau of Reclamation, don’t think that’s going to be the case here.

And yes, I can hear teeth grinding right now- the teeth of those people who don’t think has any business coming out of their taps, and would probably talk about fighting to the death to keep it from happening.

I’ve got news for those folks.

Recycled water is the wave of the future.

People in Orange County have been drinking it for years, and are very happy with the process and the taste and purity of the water.

Get used to it.

I’ve told you time and again in these columns that water is a finite resource.

Right now, 100 percent of the water Padre Dam sells us is and the State Water Project- 100 percent as in every drop.

Both of those sources are , and even when they do provide sufficient water for our needs, each gallon of that water is .

I just got an e-mail from a group about a United Nations report which talks about the need to provide each and every citizen with safe clean drinking water.

I agree totally with that.

But the first thing we have to do is make sure we have water at all- then work on cleaning it up.

AvgJoe August 31, 2011 at 08:24 PM
Wow I didn't know all of our water was imported, and this project is what I thought was happening at santee lakes already but I guess not. Hopefully this works out, we should reuse water as much as possible once we've paid for it, it only makes sense.
Phil Owens August 31, 2011 at 09:11 PM
Fascinating story, Doug. Thanks.
buzidebbee September 01, 2011 at 07:04 AM
Excellent idea. Our rates will go up one way or another why not use that rate hike to develop a local water source? Reclaimed water IS safe and IS the future of drinking water. Santee will be a step ahead which means we pay less in the long run. I hope people here use their heads and push this forward.
Christal Ferris September 01, 2011 at 02:31 PM
I think this is a great idea. As you said, water is a finite resource especially here where are water is imported. Our rates will continue to rise regardless and I'd rather invest in something like this rather than depending on water from the Colorado River. I'm interested to see where this will end up. Thanks for the info Doug.
Phil Owens September 01, 2011 at 04:20 PM
Wonder if desalination could be incorporated at some point.
Gary Strawn September 01, 2011 at 06:14 PM
Those that have concerns about drinking recycled water should think about the water we get from the Colorado River. How much of it has already been "recycled" by Los Vegas and other metropolitan and agricultural users upstream. As you said "water is a finite resource" it all gets recycled one way or another.
Jim September 01, 2011 at 06:19 PM
For those who find the idea of using and drinking reclaimed water distasteful: where do you think the astronauts on the space station have been getting their water? The technology has been in use for years in many places around the world, and with a growing global population, it will only increase.
Gary Strawn September 01, 2011 at 06:19 PM
Desalination can be incorporated, but recycling waste water is much cheaper and for now, we have a lot of it. Plus some of the costs of recycling are being incurred anyway, just in sewer treatment.


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