In San Diego County, which receives about 10 inches of rain each year, the issue of water use takes on a unique dimension. Because of its desert climate, the semi-arid region is almost completely reliant on water imports from other areas.
The San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce is working to change that, through its leadership of the Water Reliability Coalition, a new community group that explores ways to discharge and recycle stormwater runoff. Inspired by progress in nearby Los Angeles County, the coalition hopes that developing a holistic stormwater reuse strategy can reduce the drought-prone region’s dependence on imported drinking water.
Stormwater discharge in the metro area is regulated by the local and state water boards, which require all construction in the region to submit plans to reduce runoff, as well as develop strategies for treatment and reuse.
“One of the challenges we’re facing is more rain than usual, so storage becomes very important,” said Sean Karafin, vice president of policy and economic research at the San Diego Regional Chamber. “The water is very valuable if you can store it, so we’re trying to create that new water source while complying with regulations, which is really what makes it financially feasible in some cases.”
The chamber received funding from the San Diego Foundation to hold a series of public workshops to engage the business community and facilitate a dialog about stormwater reuse. These workshops culminated in the Stormwater Summit in September, where small groups identified important themes that were later summarized in a white paper by the Water Reliability Coalition.
In the white paper, the coalition identifies examples of other municipalities in Southern California that are successfully diverting stormwater for potable reuse. One such example is the Franklin D. Roosevelt Community Park Regional Stormwater Capture Project in Los Angeles, a system of drains that remove trash and sediment from stormwater runoff at the park, before diverting it to areas where it can safely infiltrate, or reenter, the ground.
Another project that was highlighted was the San Diego International Airport Authority, which developed best management practices for discharging stormwater runoff from one its terminal parking lots. The proposal will treat and recycle more than 30,000 gallons annually, according to the white paper.
“The airport authority actually believes that stormwater capture and reuse is important to the whole region,” said Richard Gilb, director at the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority. “With over 600 acres of concrete basically that gets 10 inches of rain a year, that’s a lot of water. We think it’s a silver bullet.”
Karafin, while optimistic, remains realistic in his expectations about the long road ahead for widescale adoption of stormwater reuse technology.
“There are opportunities for stormwater capture and reuse, but it’s going to take some very collaborative and willing parties to make this situation better,” he said. “We’re not going to solve it with just the business community advocating. We’re going to have to work with environmentalists and our elected officials to all get on the same page about what makes most sense.”
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