The City Council asked its lawyers Tuesday to research whether there is a legal way the city can reactivate a request for waiver from federal requirements under the Clean Water Act, avoiding an expensive upgrading of the city sewage system.
The lawyers plan to have the research done for a Nov. 1 hearing before U.S. District Judge Rudi Brewster, said Ted Bromfield, chief deputy city attorney.
Under an agreement between the city and the federal government, San Diego is committed to building a system capable of secondary sewage treatment. Secondary treatment removes 90% of suspended solids from sewage. The city's advanced primary sewage treatment process now removes 80% of the solids from the waste before it is discharged into the ocean off Point Loma.
The city had temporary waivers from the act's requirements from 1981 through 1986, but the city withdrew its application for a waiver in 1987 when the EPA indicated that the city's request would not be granted.
An official of the EPA said he if not sure that San Diego will even be allowed to apply for a waiver now.
"It could be legally impossible to reactivate a waiver at this late date," said Hugh Barroll, assistant regional counsel for the EPA in San Francisco.
Also Tuesday, the San Diego County Grand Jury released a resolution urging the city to back out of its January, 1990, acceptance of an EPA requirement for secondary treatment and renew its application for a waiver.
The secondary treatment plant is estimated to cost as much as $2.8 billion by 2003. Many scientists have said that secondary sewage treatment is unnecessary.