PACIFICA — A local water treatment plant will soon be piping 50 million gallons of treated, recycled water to the Sharp Park Golf Course and other sites in Pacifica thanks to a $2.2 million grant from the federal government.

The North Coast County Water District, which serves potable water to Pacifica and part of San Bruno, got word last week that a shovel-ready project 10 years in the making had been greenlit by the grant, paid for by the federal stimulus package.

Other than saving a substantial amount of fresh, drinkable water currently being used to irrigate the golf course and other sports fields and parks around Pacifica, the $10 million project will create 275 jobs as workers lay three miles of distribution piping and build a large water storage tank and new pumping facility.

"This project is the right thing to do. It really offsets the potable water that we use. Recycled water is really the best source of new water in California," said Kevin O'Connell, general manager of the North Coast County Water District.

O'Connell's agency will split the project's remaining cost, $6.6 million, with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. Both agencies will have to pay back low-interest construction loans obtained from a state fund that supports water reuse projects. The SFPUC will use 78 percent of the water to irrigate Sharp Park (the golf course is in Pacifica but owned by San Francisco) and therefore owes a larger part of the debt. Construction will begin in September and will be complete in about a year, according to O'Connell.


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This will be San Francisco's first venture into water recycling, although the SFPUC is in talks with Daly City to divert a portion of its recycled water to irrigate the Harding/Fleming Golf Course. Daly City already applies its own treated wastewater to three other golf courses within city limits.

San Francisco also plans to someday irrigate Golden Gate Park with recycled water pumped in from its oceanside wastewater plant, according to SFPUC officials.

Recycled water — wastewater that has been treated to a level advanced enough to allow for application to lawns, reuse in toilets and industrial processes like cement mixing — is seen as a crucial water-saving measure for the Bay Area and the state as a whole in light of anticipated shortages. It will also help regional customers of the SFPUC, including San Mateo, Alameda and part of Santa Clara counties, adhere to a commitment to reduce average water use by 25 million gallons per day by 2018.

"There's a finite amount of water on the planet, and (we need) to make sure we're using the same sources of water for the right purpose. It fits in with our whole sense of the water cycle," said Michael Carlin, deputy general manager of the SFPUC.

"It costs a little more now, but over time recycled water will be more cost-effective," Carlin added. "The cool part is that it keeps water in the reservoirs for people to drink and puts more water into the rivers to protect the environment. It's hard to put a price on that."

With respect to rivers, O'Connell is quick to mention that the new recycled water project will only divert 10 percent of the water that Pacifica's wastewater treatment plant currently sends down Calera Creek to feed wetlands and wildlife before emptying into the ocean. That number will increase in the future as the North Coast County Water District makes good on long-term plans to pipe recycled water into a series of planned eco-friendly subdivisions in southern Pacifica.

Realizing that vision would make Pacifica one of the only cities in the Bay Area that uses treated water for in-home uses like toilets. Such uses are rare because they require a lot of permitting and a second set of pipes just for the recycled water.

Redwood City already distributes more than twice as much recycled water as Pacifica intends to, and recently passed an ordinance requiring that indoor recycled water plumbing be installed in all new apartments and condominiums within a certain service area. Redwood City plans to more than double the volume of recycled water it sends to residents, industry and office complexes by the end of 2010, according to project consultant Mark Millan. The city also envisions a time when it could expand its reach to serve neighboring cities' recycled water needs as well.

Reach Julia Scott at 650-348-4340 at julia.scott@bayareanewsgroup.com.