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City Opposes Plan to Empty Waste Water in Upper Bay : Environment: Newport Beach council expected to refuse to endorse the Irvine Ranch Water District proposal, which must be approved by a state panel.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

After reviewing two independent studies on a controversial plan to empty reclaimed waste water into Upper Newport Bay, the City Council on Monday is expected to take a stand against the Irvine Ranch Water District proposal.

Reports by a UCLA biologist and a San Diego-based ecologist state that dumping 5 million gallons of highly treated sewage into the bay daily would not benefit the ecosystem, as the water district contends, and might be harmful to it.

Council members had set a vote on the issue earlier this month but decided to wait until they could study the consultants’ reports.

The waste water project, to have begun this month, was delayed after public protest prompted the city’s Harbor Quality Commission, chaired by Councilwoman Jean H. Watt, to investigate further.

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After its study, the commission recommended that the city reject the plan, and council members have indicated that they will probably do so.

The water district does not need Newport Beach’s backing to proceed with the Wetlands Water Supply Project but has been seeking city support before the project goes to the California Regional Water Quality Control Board in January for final approval.

In addition to the Upper Bay project, the Irvine Ranch Water District is proposing to pay the city of Irvine $1.5 million to set up a system that would divert creek waters to create wetlands with ponds and islands.

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The two plans aim to improve the conditions of the wildlife habitat in and around the bay while saving the water district $20 million over a period of five to 10 years by not having to pay the county sanitation district to dispose of sewage, water district officials said.

The water that the district is proposing to flush into the bay would be the highest quality next to drinking water, said Gerald J. Thibeault, the Water Quality Control Board’s executive officer for the Santa Ana region, and would be safe for all other uses.

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“This includes swimming and incidental ingestion of the water. This reclaimed water is better than the quality of the water of San Diego Creek,” said Thibeault, who will make a written recommendation to the quality control panel before it votes on the project.

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Contaminants such as motor oil and other fuels that drain from city streets into the creek are much more dangerous than reclaimed water, which is typically used for irrigation of school playgrounds, golf courses and parks, he said.

Opponents of the plan, however, contend that dumping treated sewage into the bay would not only create a negative image of the area but, by mixing fresh water with the bay’s salt water, upset the delicate ecological balance.


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