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Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation Collection

Identifier: MS-0161

Scope and Contents

The Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation Collection consists of paper records dating from 1952 to 1963 that document citizens groups' push for wastewater reclamation during the early development of San Diego's metropolitan sewer system, and controversy over various aspects of the city's sewerage plans. Materials include correspondence, meeting minutes, newspaper clippings, official reports and engineering studies. The bulk of the documents comprise the personal papers of Point Loma resident Dr. Richard E. Worthington, who headed the City-Wide Committee Against the Point Loma Sewer Outfall and the Citizens for Water Reclamation, groups opposed to the plan to construct a sewage treatment plant and ocean outfall on Point Loma. Also in this collection are the records of the Water Reclamation Commission established by the city to investigate the potential for a water reclamation system in San Diego, including the commission's 1963 report on a possible waste water reclamation system for Balboa Park and Mission Bay. The files are labelled, where applicable, with the name of the group or agency which produced the records therein. The collection is filed in chronological order.


  • Creation: 1952 - 1963

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The copyright interests in some or all of these materials have not been transferred to San Diego State University. Copyright resides with the creator(s) of materials contained in the collection or their heirs. The nature of archival collections is such that multiple creators are often applicable and copyright status may be difficult or even impossible to determine. In any case, the user must assume full responsibility for any use of the materials, including but not limited to, obtaining publication rights and copyright infringement. When requesting images from Special Collections & University Archives for publication, we require a signed agreement waiving San Diego State University of any liability in the event of a copyright violation.

Historical Note

In November 1960 San Diego voters approved a $42.5 million bond measure to build a regional Metropolitan Sewerage System. Until then waste water had gone into the San Diego Bay after undergoing treatment at the sewage facility at 32nd Street and Harbor Drive. As a result the bay became dangerously polluted and the city faced potential legal action by the state Water Pollution Control Board to force emergency upgrades to the sewage system. The city made several studies of waste water disposal in the 1950s and received competing recommendations to construct a new sewage plant in the South Bay, Point Loma or both. The plan adopted by the city and approved by voters -- produced by the firm Holmes & Narver with consulting engineer James M. Montogomery in 1958 -- provided for a sewage treatment plant and ocean outfall on Point Loma. The sewer project suffered a number of setbacks before construction would begin, including challenges from citizens and a near inability to sell revenue bonds due to grossly underestimated construction costs in the Holmes & Narver - Mongomery plan. As the city was breaking ground on the initial stages of the project in 1961 it encountered opposition from residents of Point Loma. The City-Wide Committee Against the Point Loma Sewer Outfall, a group of citizens led by Point Loma psychologist Dr. Richard E. Worthington, ran ads opposing the location of the plant on Point Loma, gathered letters of protest, and voiced opposition at city council meetings. On May 25, after a city council meeting at which citizens and experts made arguments for and against the Point Loma outfall, the council voted to go ahead with the project as planned. In July the cost estimate error was discovered when bids on the first stages of the project were much higher than expected. To make up the cost difference the system was redesigned, portions of the project were postponed, and a deal was struck with the City Employees Retirement Board to allow it to purchase land downtown and then lease it to the city, providing immediate funds for the sewer project. Citizens for Water Reclamation, the successor to the City-Wide committee, continued to oppose the Point Loma project and urged the city to investigate an alternative water reclamation system. Worthington forced the issue in August when he filed a taxpayer's suit against the city to stop the sale of revenue bonds. After a week of negotiations, the two sides came to a compromise and Worthington withdrew his suit. In exchange, the city provided answers to 20 questions put by Worthington pertaining to the economic soundness of the revised Point Loma plan and agreed to form a citizens' commission to study the possibility of water reclamation for San Diego. The Water Reclamation Commission was officialy formed in September with Reuben H. Fleet serving as chairman and Worthington as vice chairman. The commission contracted Boyle Engineering to conduct a study of a water reclamation and irrigation system for Balboa Park and Mission Bay Park which was delivered to the city in 1963. The Metropolitan Sewerage System went into operation in 1963, serving the city of San Diego and participating cities and water districts in the greater San Diego region.


1 Linear Feet (One records carton)

Language of Materials




Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation Collection
Jennifer Hollander; Adam Burkhart
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Revision Statements

  • September 2022: The Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation Collection (formerly the Metropolitan Waste Water Reclamation Project Collection) was reprocessed in September 2022. The historical and scope notes were rewritten, the files were renamed and given a new arrangement, and several files containing receipts for Dr. Richard E. Worthington's personal expenses were removed.

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections & University Archives Repository

5500 Campanile Dr. MC 8050
San Diego CA 92182-8050 US