By Roger Butow
South Coast Water District has refused to consider Clean Water Now’s alternative plan: Use existing and potential recycled water sources, plus pump brackish groundwater from just below the proposed site. Our plan’s upsides include:
- Far cheaper sticker price
- Far less operational purification energy demands (much smaller carbon footprint)
- Far less volume of concentrated contaminants discharged offshore Doheny State Beach (DSB) to comply with California’s Ocean Plan
- 12 million gallon per day (MGD) production, a regional potable (drinking water) supply facility, double SCWD’s proposal
- Less environmentally degrading or invasive
- Zero recreational use dislocation at the state beach needed to install and service experimental slant wells
Ocean desalination can only reclaim 50% of volumes taken in for drinking water purposes. CWN’s proposal uses recycled and brackish water, with about 90% total recovery rate.
The J.B. Latham Waste Treatment Plant, on the opposite side of San Juan Creek, discharges about 8 million gallons per day of secondary level treated effluent about a mile off of DSB via the San Juan Creek Ocean Outfall Pipe (SJCOOP).
It’s managed by the parent SOC Wastewater Authority (SCWD is a JPA member). There’s enough room to build a reclamation annex onsite, purify 8 MGD up to high-quality recycled water standards.
Send that 8 MGD, and other surplus recycled water sources already in, or available from SCWD’s system (3 mgd, totaling 11 mgd), over to the site but as a new Direct Potable Reuse (DPR) plant. Final polishing/cleansing is relatively effortless.
SCWD takes over management of the Coastal Treatment Plant (CTP) in Aliso Canyon, upgrades it to a recycled water facility. Send the CTP’s surplus south to the new DPR facility via existing piping.
3 MGD could be pumped up a few hundred feet from below the site using time proven, using reliable, conventional vertical wells, not the experimental slant wells SCWD has chosen. Pumping brackish is desalination or desalting but in fresh/ocean water mixing zones.
SCWD owns three parcels of 10 acres each, the ocean desalination on the one closest to the beach. Why not pump from their own property, keeping within their ownership footprint? Minimal total inflow of about 14 MGD or 12 MGD of drinking water.
Simple plumbing dynamics can connect the intake and subsequent distribution systems.
The economy of scale significantly reduces construction, operational/maintenance and delivery costs, making it more economically attractive.
An 11 MGD production equals 10% of South Orange County drinking water demands.
Partners Municipal Water District of OC (MWDOC originally launched this project in 2001), Laguna Beach, San Clemente, San Juan Capistrano and Moulton Niguel Water District all walked away from this project 8 years ago because they saw the already soaring costs, their fiduciary frugality proven in time to be wise choices.
A combination of DPR and Indirect Potable Reuse (IPR), with modest brackish pumping, should have be analyzed, explored for their potential: Ocean desalination should have been SCWD’s last, not first path.
Candidate partners will want to “look under the hood and kick the tires,” go through term sheets with a fiscal oversight comb. CWN believes they’ll sustain our contention that were better alternatives that SCWD ignored.
We’re not the only ones to be suspicious, believe SCWD’s projected rates Pollyanna, if not outright voodoo math for luring bait.
Doesn’t that help explain why for all of these years since they left the table, none of the original partners have returned?
Then there’s the largest and most innovative water supplier (potable and recycled) in South Orange County, Santa Margarita Water District. They haven’t invested a penny in 20 years, they must have had their reasons.
Tiny SCWD, already in red ink from the South Laguna Tunnel Project, has been in over their heads since going solo in 2013, not to mention blown through more than $10 million that can’t be recovered.
Roger is a professional land use and environmental analyst. He’s also founder and executive director of Clean Water Now.