California Coastal Commission OKs desalination plant in O.C.

Less than six months after rejecting a proposal for a large Desalination Plant in Huntington Beach, the California Coastal Commission on Thursday approved plans for another, smaller project in Orange County that could serve as a model for future projects.

The commission unanimously approved – with conditions – the Doheny Ocean Desalination Project near the Pacific Coast Highway and San Juan Creek in Dana Point. The plant, which will convert seawater into drinking water, is operated by the South Coast Water District.

Unlike the Poseidon Water project, which was rejected in May due to threats to marine life and other issues, the Doheny facility will be tied into an existing municipal system and have a better environmental design, officials said. But while some championed the project as an example of desalination “done right,” opponents said there are more efficient and economical methods that should be explored first.

Coastal Commission senior deputy director Kate Huckelbridge said in an interview ahead of the meeting that Doheny has cleared many of the hurdles that come with desalination and “represents an easier path to a permittable project.”

“We have really significant water issues in the state, and I think we’re in a situation where we need to look at all the options really seriously,” she said.

South Coast Water District officials said the project comes at a crucial time. The agency, which serves about 40,000 residents and 2 million visitors each year, currently imports 90% of its supplies from the State Water Project and the Colorado River, both of which are shrinking due to drought, climate change and increasing desiccation.

There are also five fault lines between the district and its supply that could threaten water supplies in the event of an earthquake, said Rick Shintaku, water district general manager.

“That’s a big threat to us if one of those fault lines would disrupt the feeders or the facility up there,” he said. “Our regional planning authority has instructed us to plan for 60 days of emergency supplies. We just got 11.”

When completed in 2027, the desalination plant will have the capacity to produce up to 5 million gallons of drinking water per day, enough to reduce the district’s reliance on imported water from 90% to “between 20% and 40%,” it said Shintaku .

But desalination hasn’t been without controversy, and the commission’s approval came with more than a dozen conditions the water district must meet, including working with the California Department of Parks and Recreation to find new campgrounds while construction does the Doheny campground State Beach closes for 18 to 24 months.

A site plan for the proposed Doheny desalination plant shows how the pipelines will lead from the ocean to the plant.

A site plan for the proposed Doheny Desalination Plant at Dana Point shows how wells and pipelines will lead from the ocean to the plant in the South Coast Water District.

(South Shore Water District)

The project also includes several design elements aimed at counteracting potential harm to marine life – usually seen as one of the major downsides of the desalination process.

Under the proposed plans, seawater will be pumped into the facility through fully submerged inclined intake wells that will pass beneath Doheny State Beach. The low-velocity wells will never reach the surface and therefore will not capture marine life, according to the Water District.

The other end of the process involves the discharge of hypersaline brine, or the salt water that is removed from seawater in desalination. Brine from Doheny will be mixed with the water district’s existing sewers and diluted before being discharged approximately two miles into the sea.

The result isn’t zero damage, but it’s significantly less than a project like Poseidon and is the “environmentally preferred discharge method,” officials said. The commission also requires that the water district create or restore approximately 7½ acres of tidal wetlands elsewhere in the county to compensate for potential losses.

“I see this project as the model that I hope all applicants will aspire to,” said Commission Chair Donne Brownsey during the meeting.

The project has garnered broad support from locally elected officials, including Reps. Mike Levin (D-San Juan Capistrano) and Michelle Steel (R-Seal Beach), as well as agencies such as the Metropolitan Water District and the San Diego Regional Water Quality Board. calling it “the first sea desalination plant to eliminate damage to fish.” The City of San Clemente and the Laguna Beach County Water District have both signed letters of interest to partner on the project.

Reached by phone, Orange County Coast Guard President Garry Brown — who campaigned against the Poseidon Project for nearly 20 years — said he supports the South Coast Water District’s plan because it “fully conforms to the California Ocean Plan’s statewide desalination policy.” correspond”.

“We had this project that was 100% compliant with statewide guidance, and we had Poseidon that was almost 100% non-compliant,” he said. “The South Shore plant was a project done right and Poseidon was a desalination done wrong.”

Brown noted that his support was based on the project’s technical design, which not only mitigates the impact on marine life, but also aims to reduce energy costs through solar power. He had not reviewed the project for compliance with the California Coastal Act — a separate document that considers impact on the public — and was therefore neutral in that regard.

However, some locals had concerns. Connor Everts, executive director of the Southern California Watershed Alliance, said he opposed the project because he felt the water district hadn’t done enough to conserve and conserve water.

“The reality is we’re conserving more water than these plants are producing,” he said. “When we save water, we save energy and don’t harm the environment.”

Lydia Ponce, an activist with the Society of Native Nations, similarly said she was concerned about the long-term environmental impact of the brine discharge. She said officials should have exhausted all other options first.

“We’re nowhere near desalination as a solution,” she said. “It’s too much of a commodity to say, ‘The future of water is desalination.’ No, the future of water is conservation, reuse and diversion, reuse.”

Commissioner Effie Turnbull-Sanders acknowledged that these efforts must remain the focus.

“However, in the current environment, we have a significant need for additional water in our portfolio,” she said. “And I think this project is … a lot better than what we’ve seen in the past.”

Shintaku said the district has been at Stage 2 of its water conservation plan since May and also has one of the lowest water loss rates in the state, around 3% to 4%. He also said the district has been investing in recycled water for about four decades and that one of its treatment plants is already reusing 70% of its wastewater, with a goal of reaching 100%.

“We’ve done everything from recycled water to saving to minimizing water loss in our system [treating] brackish groundwater,” he said. “And then we’re still in this predicament because we depend on Metropolitan for 90% of our water supply.”

In the case of Poseidon, opponents were also concerned about the profit structure, including what they termed the “privatization of water” for the politically powerful Poseidon Water.

Doheny’s additional cost to installment payers depends on the partnership structure. If the water district goes it alone, the $140 million project would add about $7 a month to the average household bill, Shintaku said. If other water districts enroll, that cost would drop to $2.38.

“There is no question that meeting California’s future water needs is a challenge that will require every tool in the toolbox,” Huckelbridge told the commissioners during the meeting. “We believe that the project you have today, while not perfect, provides a solid example that we can use when planning future desalination.”

Doheny will join a growing list of California desalination plants, including existing plants in Santa Barbara and Carlsbad. Santa Catalina Island, off the coast of Los Angeles, now gets about half of its water from a desalination plant on its shore.

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-10-13/california-coastal-commission-oks-desalination-plant-in-orange-county California Coastal Commission OKs desalination plant in O.C.

Alley Einstein

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