OC Wise Blog

Orange County Needs Desalinated Water

Water Wave

Recent criticisms of the Orange County Water District ( OCWD) securing water from Poseidon Resources (Surfside) proposed 50 million gallon a day seawater desalination plant deny: climate change and the sustained drought California and Orange County are experiencing, the State's and Orange County's inability to conserve water, the projected population growth for Orange County, the fact that both imported water and surface water resources have become severely limited by the drought and competition for that water, and that the Districts Wastewater Recycling Program, while laudable, is insufficient to make up the projected 2035/75,000 afy water short fall with the District’s service territory.

A recent article by Joe Geever citing rainfall and a proposal by the Irvine Ranch Water District's (IRWD) Board of Directors also relying on rainfall, to replenish the groundwater basin, persists in denying these realities.

The OCWD/Poseidon relationship would provide 50 million daily gallons of reliable drought- proof water to the District. Given that Mr. Geever is a member of the state's environmental community, committed to the realty of climate change and the drought, it is puzzling that his alternatives to new water created by desalination focus on rainfall, imported water, and Santa Ana River flows; all sources severely compromised by the drought.

The IRWD's arguments, cited by Mr. Geever, are equally puzzling as they too rely on natural forces ( rain ) recharging the ground water basin thereby creating a reserve "water bank" for Orange County.

We live in a semi-arid drought prone desert. 2014 was the driest year on record in California history dating to the Gold Rush; 2015 is predicted to be even drier. According to the CaliforniaDepartment of Water Resources 98% of California, including Orange County, remains in severe drought. NASA scientists are predicting a "megadrought" for Orange County and the region which could last up to 10 years. The National Weather Service said the recent El Nino was weak, and ineffective. Water officials say it would take about 11 trillion gallons of additional water to recover from California's continuing drought. March is the end of California's rainy season.

Irrespective of whether one believes that climate change is human caused it has become indisputable that it is happening and that drought and lack of fresh water availability are one of its long-term consequences.

2014 was the hottest year on record in California, and around the World. The National Climate Assessment (NCA) released a statement, in May 2014, saying overall, warmer temperatures will mean more evaporation and more water shortages. This has become especially damaging in California where we are in the midst of a multi-yeardrought now in its fourth year.

Approximately fifty percent of Orange County's water supply is imported from northern California and the Colorado River. These water sources are not considered to be reliable or sustainable for future generations. Due to the Drought, the SWP cut its deliveries to zero in 2014 before raising them to 5%; 2015 delivers are projected to be in the 10-15% range. The California snowpack, the most reliable indicator of the state's water health isas of this writing at 13% of normal. Thirty one-percent of the water used in North and Central Orange County is from the Colorado River. The Colorado River supplies water for 30 million people in multiple states and is one of the most contested rivers on Earth. Water deliveries to Californian from the Colorado were at their lowest ever in 2014; 2015 is expected to be the same or provide even less water.

In the face of the Drought, suggesting that Orange County water planning should continue to rely on imported water in lieu of developing a drought-proof reliable source of new desalinated seawater is at best wishful thinking which denies the facts.

Local water sources are likewise severely challenged. The groundwater basin is reaching unsustainable levels of overdraft. According to the Bureau of Reclamation and the OCWD, Santa Ana River flows are drying and are unlikely to provide future yields above minimal entitlement. Orange County's population is predicted to increase by 300,000 by 2020. OCWD, one of the most progressive water districts in the Country, projects a 75,000 acre-foot a year water short fall by 2035. Local water sources cannot be relied upon to meet this projected short-fall.

As indicated in our Mission Statement, OC WISE supports all forms of new water including conservation and water efficiency. Conservation however, is not adding significant amounts of new water to water district portfolios. On Friday January 17, 2014, Governor Brown officially declared a drought emergency calling for a 20% voluntary reduction in state water use. On Tuesday March 17, 2015,acknowledging that California's water conservation efforts have fallen far short (reaching only 9.7%), the Brown Administration imposed state-wide mandatory water conservation rules. While we believe in and will continue to work for more conservation it should not be viewed as the solution to Orange County's water needs. Rather, it along with seawater desalination, water efficiency and water recycling should be viewed as a well-balanced and diversified water supply portfolio capable of ensuring future water needs for Orange County.

OC WISE unequivocally supports recycling waste water (turning waste water into drinking water). The OCWD has one of the most progressive successful Ground Water Replenishment System (GWRS) programs in the Nation. However, as with conservation this is neither a panacea or an either or situation. OCWD should and will complete its Groundwater Recharge program using recycled waste water from the Orange County sewage treatment plant; this will add an additional 30,000 acre-feet a year to the District. Coupled with the 56,000 afy Poseidon's facility would produce the District will be able to meet its projected 75,000 afy projected 2035 short fall of water. There is simply not enough waste water to recycle to ensure the District can meet its long-term water demands without the kind of augmentation which desalination can provide.

Mr. Geever's reliance on a recent presentation by the IRWD arguing that if OCWD and its member agencies withdrew more water from the basin during rainy years and less during dry years such would result in an adequate water "insurance policy" for the District alleviating the need for new desalinated water is equally misguided; it presumes that there will be enough rain, to allow the kind of ground water recharge capable of meeting future needs. OC WISE simply disagrees, the facts and the science all point to the contrary.

Mr. Geever also refers to the costs associated with desalination, while at the same time advocating that the HB plant use unproven seawater intake technology that will adds hundreds of millions to the price of water.The OCWD/Poseidon Term Sheet significantly mitigates risk to the district from the financing and building of the distributions system. OCWD has no obligation to purchase water unless Poseidon delivers water meeting contractual specifications for quantity, quality, reliability and price. Poseidon would be responsible for permitting, financing, designing, constructing, and operating the desalination plant - and the projected monthly water bill increases would be less than $1.00 per month per resident in 2015 dollars.

OC WISE is happy to work with all parties towards water independence for Orange County. The Organization believes it is essential that the County and the OCWD develop and maintain diversified water portfolios that include and develop all forms of new water.

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