Depending on who is doing the talking, the Irvine Ranch Water District's plan to release 5 million gallons per day of treated reclaimed waste water into San Diego Creek--which in turn flows into Upper Newport Bay--is either a serious threat to the environment or a boon to wetlands.
Passions are running high, and the public understandably is confused. While the proposal does not require any licenses or permits from the city of Newport Beach, the City Council was prudent recently to ask for more time to determine whether concerns about environmental and public health are warranted. The council also has said it will work with the district to develop ways to ensure such a project would actually enhance bay water quality and improve habitat, and it will retain its own consultant to review the proposal. The city's approach, says Mayor John W. Hedges, will be to oppose the project unless it is convinced there would be no adverse effect either on the Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve or on public health.
For its part, the district has said that it can save up to $30 million a year while supplying migratory waterfowl ponds with reclaimed water from October through March.
It disputes a contention of critics, supported by ecologists from the state Department of Fish and Game, that the influx of treated water will generate more algae blooms in the bay. It generally downplays these concerns, and says that the quality of the water will be the same as is used for irrigation in parks and schools.
Wherever the truth lies, it is good that the district agreed to postpone the adoption of its environmental impact report to allow time for Newport Beach to do its own analysis.
In view of the public concern, a deliberate approach is warranted. That is especially true when there are such vastly different claims being made about the environmental effect of the proposal.