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Bills Would Promote Recycling of Waste Water : Drought: One calls for design of a distribution system for reclaimed water; the second sets up research for reclamation.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

An Orange County congressman on Wednesday introduced two bills that would promote the recycling of sewage and salt water as tools in quenching the state’s thirst for water resources.

“Californians let billions of gallons of usable water go to waste each year,” said Rep. Ron Packard (R-Oceanside), who represents parts of southern Orange County. “The current five-year drought has demonstrated the critical need to find long-term solutions to our water shortage problems.”

Rep. Frank Riggs (R-Windsor), who co-authored the legislation, said: “In this bill, Rep. Packard and I are saying that there is is no such thing as waste water.”

One of the Packard bills would direct the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to study and begin designing a regional “backbone” system of pipes and pumps to move recycled sewage water from treatment plants to agricultural and recreational facilities, including golf courses, throughout Southern California.

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Technology already is in place to make water left over from sewage processing suitable for irrigating many crops, and watering parks, golf courses and other recreational facilities, the congressmen said. The problem, Packard said, is that there is no way to move recycled water from sewage treatment plants to the places where it can be used because recycled water cannot be pumped through the same system that brings drinking water to homes and businesses.

Packard acknowledged that construction of a separate, recycled water distribution system for Southern California--the counties of Orange, Los Angeles, Ventura, Riverside, San Bernardino, Imperial and San Diego--would be a massive, enormously expensive, public works project. But he said the study and design work called for in his legislation is a necessary first step.

The legislation, known as the Wastewater Reclamation Act, also would authorize the Corps of Engineers to work on a separate, localized reclamation system for San Diego. In addition, it would permit the Environmental Protection Agency to work with the city of Santa Rosa and Napa County in designing waste-water reclamation facilities in Northern California.

The second bill--The Desalination Technology Act--would direct the National Science Foundation to establish a $6-million research program, with money already appropriated, to study technologies used to convert saline and brackish water into fresh water for crop irrigation or home consumption. The major drawback to current desalination technology is its tremendous cost.

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“Through desalination we have access to an endless supply of water,” Packard said. “Unfortunately, current technology has been prohibitively expensive for most communities.” In recent years, Packard said, budget cutbacks have severely curtailed the federal government’s research efforts on converting salt water to fresh water.

Among the congressmen co-sponsoring the legislation are Riggs, and Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Long Beach), who represents northwestern Orange County, Bill Lowery (R-San Diego), and Randy (Duke) Cunningham (R-San Diego).

Lowery, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, said Congress has already set aside $400,000 for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1 to begin the Army Corps of Engineers study in Southern California. The study is expected to eventually cost much more, although none of the congressmen volunteered a figure.

Packard, Lowery and others noted that Interior Secretary Manuel J. Lujan just last August traveled to San Diego to announce a $2-million initiative by the Bureau of Reclamation to find new ways of recycling sewage and seawater.

The effort by the corps called for in the Packard bill would complement the work being done by the Department of the Interior, Packard said.

Even though the bills’ co-sponsors are all Republicans, Packard said he anticipates that the legislation eventually will receive broad, bipartisan support.

Because bills introduced by Republicans rarely make headway in the Democrat-controlled Congress, Packard said he will seek to incorporate his legislation into the Clean Water Act, which must be reauthorized by Congress next year. As a senior Republican member of the House Committee on Public Works and Transportation, Packard will play a major role in the reauthorization process.

A similar strategy succeeded last year, when Packard appended language to legislation authorizing funding for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration that required NASA to hew more closely to commercial practices when it lets aerospace contracts.

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