By Mike Allen
June 23, 2019 (Santee) -- The board for the Padre Dam Municipal Water District has voted unanimously for a financing package that clearly outlines the costs to each of the four agencies building the East County Advanced Water Purification Project.
The approval for an interim $9.4 million funding agreement on June 19 was part of a series of steps the Santee water district took towards constructing a massive water reclamation facility that will cost about $660 million total.
The agreement codifies that each of the agencies involved with the project pay an equal 25 percent share of the costs. The three other agencies are Helix Water District, the city of El Cajon, and San Diego County.
Since the parties agreed to undertake the project earlier in this decade, Padre Dam Water, as the lead agency, has spent about $9 million, mostly on engineering and planning services by Kennedy/Jenks Consultants. The water agency staffers said Padre exhausted earlier funding allotments and needed additional funds to keep the project on track.
The plan is to have the project go out to bid by August 2020 and get it running by 2023, staffers told Padre Dam’s five-member elected board.
While the agenda item before the board requested approval of $100,000, most of the directors were keenly aware there were much more significant amounts involved, which would entail clearer commitments from all the partner agencies.
“If you look at this first page (of the agenda item) it looks like you’re asking for $100,000, and it’s much more than that,” said Director Doug Wilson.
Wilson also asked why all the funding that Padre Dam had contributed since the project began wasn’t clearly identified, and wanted to know what the other agencies had provided.
Allen Carlisle, Padre Dam’s CEO, said Padre had put up about $4.2 million of the $9 million spent so far. Most of the other funding came from a $3 million state grant. He said about $800,000 was paid by Helix, about $250,000 was paid by the county, and $100,000 came from El Cajon, but didn’t say the sources for the rest of the funding.
Although the bigger picture was not disclosed in the staff report on the issue, one director asked about the ultimate cost for the facility.
Director Augie Scalzitti asked if the project was going to put the agency into the $350 million bracket. No, said Carlisle. “It’s going to put us in the $660 million bracket.”
After the meeting, Carlisle said the construction would cost about $550 million, and by including “soft costs” of design and engineering, the total would likely come in about $660 million.
The agenda item also didn’t show what maintenance costs would be, but those were estimated in a 2016 report at about $400 million.
Padre Dam is already producing purified, drinkable water from sewage it treats in four extensive steps at its demonstration facility located just north of Santee Lakes.
The agency and its partners have said by reclaiming the sewage and not sending it to San Diego for treatment, the process can provide up to 30 percent of the region’s water needs, as well as give it a more reliable source of water. Padre Dam must import all of its water through the County Water Authority, which gets it from the Metropolitan Water Authority in Los Angeles.
“The long term reasons why we are doing this is the cost savings for customers, and the long term reliability for our customers,” said Director Augie Caires.
The city of San Diego is building a similar type of water reclamation system called Pure Water that aims to begin operating in a few years. And an extensive water reclamation system has been operating in Orange County for decades.
Water professionals assert the systems remove all pathogens and purify sewage to a level that is near- distilled quality. After the extensive treatment process is concluded at the planned facility, it will be pumped to Lake Jennings, where it would go through yet another level of treatment before being distributed to users.
The funding agreement also detailed the cost for the reclaimed water to the partners, set at 92 percent of what the County Water Authority’s rate is, but that rate could be adjusted upwards to 100 percent of CWA’s rate, or downward to 85 percent, depending on production costs.
The reclaimed water split between Padre Dam and Helix was set at 31 percent, and 69 percent respectively.
In other actions by Padre Dam’s board, it affirmed its five-year budget with modifications to its 2020 budget, and approved salary increases to all of its employees.
For the upcoming fiscal year, PDWD shows total operating expenses of $47.1 million, up by about $7 million from the current fiscal year that ends June 30. The two largest expenses in the budget are for salaries, $13.7 million, and employee benefits, $10 million.
Padre Dam employees, of which there are 110 full-time equivalents, received a 3.5 percent cost of living increase to their salaries.