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By Mike Allen

October 15, 2021 (Santee) -- The joint powers agency creating the East County Advanced Water Purification (AWP) Program is using a new virtual reality video to inform local citizens about the project as it moves toward construction.

The program that has been in the planning stages since 2014 will take sewage from a large swath of East County that’s now being pumped to Point Loma’s sewage treatment plant, and run it through an extensive, four-phase purification process in Santee before it’s pumped to Lake Jennings, where it will be distributed as drinking water.

The project’s cost is so high, currently at $642 million, it is being shared by four agencies, the Padre Dam Municipal Water District, the city of El Cajon, the County of San Diego, and the Helix Water District.

When it’s completed in 2025, the retrieved and purified water, is expected to provide about 30 percent of the region’s water needs.

AWP Director Kyle Swanson said the concept of the VR video, which allows viewers to feel as though they are actually at the various sites, is to give a short, but immersive explanation about what the process is all about.

“Bringing this fun, easy to understand and immersive tour to East County’s water customers is an important and unique educational resource,” Swanson said.

As the project moves to construction, it will be eliminating the demonstration facility and visitors center next to the Ray Stoyer Wastewater Treatment Plant in Santee. Before the pandemic hit in 2020, the facility was giving tours and explaining the process to about 1,000 people annually, Swanson said.

The video that is available online at www.eastcountyawp.com/177/Videos, is aimed at community groups, schools, and scouts, but anyone can access the video even if they do not have VR goggles.

The AWP Program is continuing its outreach, and will provide VR goggles to groups that make prior arrangements, said spokeswoman Melissa McChesney. “The new virtual reality video will help us to continue to show people the process and learn about the project while we do not have a facility that people can come and see firsthand,” she said.

The cost of the 8 1/2-minute video was $12,560 and done for AWP by NV5, the program’s contracted public outreach firm. For this fiscal year, the AWP is paying NV5 about $320,000. That’s up from the prior fiscal year when NV5’s budget was about $195,000, McChesney said.

The entire AWP budget for this fiscal year is $75 million.

While the capital outlay for the AWP is significant, water officials assert it’s money well spent, and will save rate payers in the long run.

“This is going to be for their benefit--the ratepayers, or we won’t do it,” said Doug Wilson, president of the board of Padre Dam Water District, the lead agency for AWP.

Earlier this year, the AWP received a low interest federal loan of up to $387.5 million through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That would provide about half of the costs to build the project, according to the agency in a report released in May. The remainder of the costs will be paid by state loans and grants, federal grants, and revenue bonds.

That report shows the total estimated cost for the AWP to be $790.88 million. The city of San Diego is building a similar, but much larger sewage reclamation program at Miramar called Pure Water that is estimated at $5 billion.


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Our greywater is cleaner than some of the lakes and less salty than the ocean and even a lot of groundwater like in south bay so we may as well clean it just a little bit more