By Allison Jarrell, Special to the Independent
Plans for an ocean desalination plant in Dana Point are moving forward with the recent release of a draft Environmental Impact Report and an upcoming public meeting to review the report’s findings, which state that if built, the project will not have any “unavoidable significant environmental impacts.”
South Coast Water District, which provides water to several south-county cities and some Laguna Beach residents, released the draft report for the Doheny Ocean Desalination Project on May 23, which begins a 60-day public review period. The analysis evaluates the possible environmental impacts of producing desalinated drinking water.
The proposed facility would be located on district-owned property on the east side of San Juan Creek. It would have an initial capacity of up to 5 million gallons of desalinated water per day (MGD), which would produce about 75 percent of the district’s potable water supply. The plant would also have the potential for future expansions up to 15 million gallons per day.
District officials say the cost would total about $100 million, and if approved, the plant could begin producing potable water as soon as 2021. Over a 30-year period, the proposed 5 MGD facility would raise SCWD rates1.8 percent or $1.54 per month for Tier 1 customers whose monthly water bills average $87.60 a month, according to a Nov. 15 SCWD report.
“The project would create a critical community benefit: a reliable, local and drought-proof water supply that does not rely on expensive imported water and is environmentally friendly,” SCWD officials said. “In addition to providing a local, reliable and secure water supply for the district, the desalination facility would also provide emergency backup water supplies, should delivery of imported water be disrupted.”
The project differs from some other proposed desalination facilities in that it would utilize intake slant wells beneath the ocean floor at Doheny State Beach and Capistrano Beach Park to avoid inadvertently trapping or harming marine life. The facility would then use reverse osmosis to filter the salt out of the ocean water and would discharge the brine via an existing South Orange County Wastewater Authority outfall.
The draft EIR finds that SCWD’s subsurface water intake system and brine disposal system are consistent with the State Water Resource Control Board’s Ocean Plan Amendment, adopted in 2015, and provide for “negligible impact on coastal and marine water quality.”
The EIR does state, however, that if a larger, regional 15 MGD project was pursued at a later date, it “could result in unavoidable significant impacts,” adding that this is “speculative” due to the lack of details of a future larger project.
The Doheny Desalination project is significantly smaller compared to neighboring proposals. Poseidon Water is currently proposing a 50-million gallon per day facility in Huntington Beach, and West Basin Municipal Water District is proposing a 20-million gallon per day facility in El Segundo.
SCWD provides water and wastewater services to about 35,000 residents, 1,000 businesses and 2 million visitors per year in Dana Point, South Laguna, and parts of San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano.
Over 85 percent of the area’s drinking water is imported from Northern California and the Colorado River and is susceptible to natural disruptions such as seismic activity and limited groundwater due to drought. In 2015, 87 percent of SCWD’s water supply was imported and 13 percent was recycled.
The desalination project was first proposed back in 2003 to create a more locally-controlled, sustainable water supply and decrease reliance on imported water sources. Initially, five local agencies were on board, but four left the project, leaving SCWD as the lead agency.
The SCWD board voted in November to explore financing options for the plant, including a $10 million state grant. Earlier this year, the state Department of Water Resources announced that the Doheny Desalination project would be one of eight desal projects to receive the grant.
In April, SCWD directors voted to begin the permitting process with local regulatory agencies, including the Coastal Commission, state and regional water quality control boards, U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers and State Lands Commission. Permitting could take three to four months, a district consultant said.
Former SCWD director Richard Dietmeier, who spoke at the April 26 meeting, believes residents will support the project.
“The community out here that I’m running into is consistently in favor of desalination,” Dietmeier said. “They may be well ahead of this board in overall knowledge of the importance of desalination, not only to this community, but to the United States as a whole. The cleanest water that you’re liable to get in your lifetime is desalinated water.”
A public meeting to review the EIR and receive input is set for Tuesday, June 26, from 6-8 p.m. at the Capistrano Unified School District’s headquarters, 33122 Valle Road in San Juan Capistrano. An open house will run for the first 45 minutes of the meeting, followed by a presentation and public comments.
Comments can be submitted in an online comment formon the SCWD website or mailed to South Coast Water District, 31592 West St., Laguna Beach, Calif., 92651-6907. All comments must be received by July 23.
Water district officials must respond to input and will likely return to the board in late August or early September for approval of the EIR.
To view the EIR in its entirety, visit www.scwd.org, or drop by SCWD’s office in Laguna Beach or the Dana Point Public Library at 33841 Niguel Road to view a hard copy.