The South Coast Water District (SCWD) Board of Directors have certified the Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the Phase I Local Doheny Ocean Desalination Project, which would produce up to 5 million gallons per day (MGD) of new drinking water supplies for the area.
Sixteen years after the Municipal Water District of Orange County (MWDOC) and six other local water agencies first began studying the possibility of placing an ocean desalination plant at Doheny Beach, SCWD certified the EIR. MWDOC undertook years of hydrogeologic studies, slant well pilot tests, engineering feasibility reports, extended pumping, and a test slant well before SCWD took over the project in 2015.
Once permitted and constructed, the project will provide a safe, high quality, locally controlled and drought-proof water supply for the SCWD service area, while protecting the environment. It will also provide emergency water supplies should an earthquake, system shutdown, or another event disrupt the delivery of imported water to the south OC region. Currently, the District is approximately 85-100% dependent on imported water from the Sierra Nevadas or the Colorado River for drinking water.
The desalination plant will serve to further strengthen and diversify SCWD’s water supply portfolio. SCWD’s current portfolio includes significant quantities of water use efficiency (conservation), recycled water, and brackish groundwater recovery. MWDOC General Manager, Rob Hunter, congratulated SCWD on its aggressive and effective water use efficiency programs and results: “When people talk about conservation, you have done conservation.” He continued by citing SCWD’s conservation rates during the drought. “You reached your 2020 State Water goals in 2016, when the State required you to cut 24%, you did 30%,” said, Mr. Hunter. “When the State required a conservation stress test for 10%, you did 20%. Even now, post-drought, you are at 23%.” Mr. Hunter also congratulated SCWD on its water loss program that has resulted in a system loss rate of less than 4% (amongst the best in the State). “You are exceptional. You should be proud.”
SCWD continues to maximize its recycled water production while treating brackish water at the Groundwater Recovery Facility. Depending on hydrological conditions, the facility can produce up to 15% of SCWD’s water supply. The SCWD Board has also committed to a 20 percent partnership in Phase 1 of the San Juan Watershed Project, which will utilize rubber dam technology to capture and recharge stormwater flows as an additional, new drinking water supply. This project is being led by the Santa Margarita Water District.
The Final Environmental Impact Report was praised by Laguna Beach resident and South Laguna Water & Sewer Advisory Committee Chairperson, Eric Jessen, who said, “I really want to compliment the staff that completed these EIR documents; these are the best environmental documents I have ever seen.” He gave kudos to the Board members (current and former) who have provided “courageous leadership.”
MWDOC Board member Megan Yoo Schneider said she found the process fascinating to watch. “You have kept the process so open and transparent, it has become an avenue for collaboration,” she continued, “You have shown foresight and investment into our future. The cost of not investing in our reliability is far more than any cost we will invest in today.” As the MWDOC director of Division 7, Ms. Schneider represents the cities of Aliso Viejo, Dana Point, Laguna Beach, Laguna Hills, Laguna Niguel, Mission Viejo, San Clemente, and San Juan Capistrano.
SCWD has filed its Notice of Determination and will begin the permitting process with various agencies. If permitting is successful, the SCWD would then consider a Design-Build-Operate contract for approval. At best, the Doheny Ocean Desalination project could be operational by December 2022.