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Local Farmers to Benefit From New Water Filtration System in Escondido
Recycled Water Will Help Save Money & the Environment
Computer rendering of the MFRO facility to be completed in 2023.
In 2012, Escondido officials were faced with the reality that the City needed a new and innovative solution to deal with its wastewater. While the City had been using a portion of the wastewater for irrigation of parks and highway medians, a larger portion was still being processed and dumped into the Pacific Ocean, via a 14-mile pipeline that had been constructed decades earlier and was in need of repair. Repair costs for this pipeline exceeded half a billion dollars due in part to its age, but also because the city’s expansion had begun to outgrow the pipeline's maximum capacity.
So City leaders proposed another, less costly solution and one that could possibly beneficially reuse the treated wastewater.
That proposal was an MFRO filtration solution that would take more of the water that is already treated to the recycled water standard and further treat it so that it is usable for agriculture irrigation in Escondido. In March, the City broke ground on the new MFRO Facility, which is part of a long-term expansion plan for Escondido’s recycled water treatment and delivery systems. This phase will also include some underground pipes, which will be needed to deliver the recycled water to the farmers who need it.
MFRO stands for Membrane Filtration Reverse Osmosis. This is a system that will be used to treat more of Escondido’s recycled wastewater so that it is usable for agriculture.
“The MFRO takes the recycled water that we already produce and puts it through two processes. The membrane filtration process pushes the water through pressurized filters, removing microscopic particles from the water other than salt and very small organic molecules. Reverse osmosis then removes the salt, which is the key to make the water usable for agriculture irrigation,” said Christopher McKinney, Escondido’s Deputy City Manager and Utilities Director. The Utilities Department is responsible for operation of Escondido’s water utilities, including drinking water, wastewater, and recycled water for the City.
This MFRO solution - while still expensive - is both financially sound and more environmentally responsible than replacing the pipeline for ocean discharges. Expanding recycled water use is an excellent investment in Escondido’s future.
Instead of wasting usable water and sending it through a pipeline into the ocean, this water will now be directed back into the City and used by farmers to water their crops.
“These farmers are a very important part of our economy,” said McKinney, who explained that as much as a quarter of the city’s total water demand is for agriculture and the increasing costs of water have put enormous financial pressure on local farmers. “We have a customer base that is thirsty for more water at a lower cost.”
According to Grow Escondido, avocado crop revenues/exports have surpassed $40 million, and much of these dollars are spent locally by farm employees and by farms purchasing equipment and services. The multiplied impact well exceeds $100 million per year.
The majority of the farming in Escondido is avocado farms, but nurseries, citrus, and various small farms sprinkle the area as well. The reverse osmosis part of the filtration is the key to making sure farmers can use the water.
“The removal of salt is critical because avocados are sensitive to salt in the water,” said McKinney.
City leaders and project team dig in at a groundbreaking ceremony.
The facility is located in the industrial area of Escondido on Washington Avenue near Rock Springs. About half of the ten-acre parcel will be devoted to the MFRO project and its planned expansion.
Like many cities throughout California and other drought prone states that are looking to conserve and recycle water, Escondido has a plan to eventually recycle wastewater into drinking water. “To turn our water into drinkable water, we’d have to put it through yet another MFRO step,” said McKinney, adding that this plan is still 10-to-15 years down the road.
For many cities, expanding recycled water use is cost-prohibitive, but with the looming cost of replacing Escondido’s aging ocean outfall pipeline, the decision made sense. Additionally, much of the $65 million price tag for the project is being funded through State and Federal grants and financial incentives from the Metropolitan Water District and the San Diego County Water Authority. Additional funding comes from low-interest State loans and capital improvement reserves from the City’s wastewater fund. As the farmers pay for the recycled water, those costs will help cover the price of the loans and interest and help pay for further expansion into phase II, the long-term plan to recycle all wastewater into usable and drinkable water.
McKinney is proud to see the project finally reaching the construction phase.
“One of the challenging parts of developing a series of projects like this is the long haul of planning, seeking approvals, and environmental studies,” he said. “That process can seem lengthy to our planning and engineering staff, and demoralizing to the farming community that is so anxious to get the water supply. The groundbreaking ceremony was very gratifying because the project is now actually under construction!”
Throughout the process, the community has been very supportive of this project.
“We’ve had great support from both the City Council and the community at large,” said McKinney. “The community is excited about it and understands the incredible environmental benefits this project will provide, including saving water, energy and limiting the greenhouse gas footprint, all while giving farmers water at lower rates.”
McKinney admits the price tag seems high, but said the benefits outweigh the costs. “I think everybody understands the importance of it and how critical it is to the future of our water needs and the needs of Escondido.”
The City expects the MFRO facility to be completed and running by early 2023. For more information about the project visit https://www.escondido.org/mfro-project.