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Lawsuit blocking water plant construction settled
By J. Harry Jones, August 16, 2017

A lawsuit challenging the Escondido City Council’s decision earlier this year to build a recycled water treatment plant in the middle of town as been settled.

The agreement means construction of the $33 million facility can begin soon on a city-owned piece of land at the southeast corner of Washington Avenue and Ash Street. Once completed, the water plant will desalinate recycled water that has already been partially treated, then send it though pipes to eastern and northern Escondido to be used primarily to irrigate farmland. Further desalination is necessary for it to be used on crops, especially avocado trees.

Escondido’s Utilities Director Chris McKinney said construction of the plant and the simultaneous laying of the rest of the pipes needed to transport the water should begin by early next year.

“I would hope we can start delivering real water sometime in the middle of 2019,” he said.

Escondido farmers say the more affordable water will make it possible to continue operating their businesses.

The lawsuit was brought on behalf of The Springs of Escondido, a retirement home located just 10 feet from the eastern boundary of the 4.5-acre property.

In exchange for dismissal of the claim, the city has agreed to pay the retirement home’s owners $40,000 and to abide by a number of conditions designed to minimize the impact the construction and operation of the water facility will have on the center’s senior residents.

Those conditions include the construction of a 50-foot landscaped buffer zone between the retirement home and the property and an agreement not to build anything within 100 feet of the retirement home that is taller than 35 feet.

The city also agreed to design the buildings to look less like an industrial facility and more like businesses appropriate to the neighborhood, the Springs attorney, Everett DeLano, said.

Last year, the city was planning on building the plant further east on a city-owned property near the intersection of Washington Avenue and El Norte Parkway. But residents of the entirely residential neighborhood surrounding the property complained and the council agreed to find another location.

Selection of the new site was met with objections from the 100-resident Springs center as well as from nearby business owners who said such a facility would do nothing to grow their revenues. Residents in the area also said they didn’t want a plant, which uses chemicals to treat the water, near where they live.

DeLano said his client knew it would be difficult and expensive to win a lawsuit that could force the city to find yet another location and decided it made more sense to accept the compromises and remain on good terms with the city.

Escondido Senior City Attorney Adam Phillips said in a statement the city “is pleased that an amicable solution was reached that works for both parties and that the project can move forward quickly.”

Construction of the plant is important to the city. The fact that it will provide affordable water to farmers is a bonus, but the main reason is to potentially save the city as much as $1 billion.

Water used by Escondido residents and businesses ends up in the city sewers that carry it to a treatment plant on the west side of town. After the water is partially treated, some goes to irrigate golf courses, parks, city medians and other places, but there’s too much water for those limited uses. The majority is dumped into an outfall pipe that stretches from Escondido all the way to the ocean following the Escondido Creek.

As the city has continued to grow, the outfall pipe is nearing its capacity and, if something isn’t done, it will have to be replaced with a larger one. Such a project could cost up to $1 billion.

By greatly expanding its recycled water program the city can divert enough water to make replacement of the outfall pipe unnecessary, McKinney said.

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