Two Big Myths About Water
If you listen to the lobbyists who are pushing the Poseidon project, you will constantly hear
- There is some sort of immediate water supply crisis
- We need a more reliable source of water.
This is just not true in Orange County where our local water agencies have done a superb job of managing our local groundwater basin to provide the most natural, pure and reliable water supply.
Local wells and reservoirs are strategically located in many locations across the county with a high degree of redundancy in case one or more wells fail.
While we have long-term issues balancing supply and demand, especially with impacts from climate change, we have already invested to assure local storage and reliability.
By 2016, 75% of our water in most of the cities in the county will come from groundwater. In a major catastrophe, emergency plans allow for that water to be borrowed by South County cities that rely primarily on imported water.
Our Groundwater Replenishment System
People come from around the world to visit the Ground Water Replenishment System (GWRS) operations in Fountain Valley, which takes treated wastewater from our Orange County Sanitation District (OCSD) plants and purify that water to drinking standards. That water is then percolated back into the basin or pumped into special injection wells that prevent seawater from intruding into the basin.
It currently produces 70 million gallons a day. Phase 2 of this process is now under construction that will allow for a total of 90 million gallons a day. A third phase could be implemented at a later date could stretch that to 116 million gallons a day (www.gwrsystem.com).
MET's Regional Success for Storage
Not only has our local Groundwater management agency done a great job to assure a reliable water supply, but our regional water agency, the Metropolitan Water District (MET), has taken a long-term proactive approach to storing water against dry years. We now have multiple years worth of water stored in regional reservoirs in addition to the water stored in our groundwater basin.
As we move forward we have additional choices which are more environmentally, sustainable, and significantly less expensive than ocean desalination.
The following alternatives to ocean desalination borrow heavily from this recent economic analysis that looked specifically at the costs of the proposed Delta Conveyance system.
LOCAL WATER SUPPLY OPTIONS
Reviewed were potential water-supply options that could help meet future water demands: conservation, water reuse and recycling, storm water capture, and groundwater desalination. Each addresses the alternative potential and costs.
Analysts conclude that significant potential exists to decrease demand for water through greater efficiency and conservation. Water conservation methods involve little risk and impose few external costs. Conservation may also have other benefits — including decreased greenhouse gas emissions.
The cost of current conservation programs, including rebates, incentives and hardware installation programs range from $75 per acre-foot (AF) to $900 per AF. The authors of a 2008 study funded by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC) estimate the cost per AF of Santa Monica’s urban water conservation at $210 per AF. Conservation is the most cost-effective way to alleviate California’s water problems (LAEDC Report-PDF)
Recycled water projects currently provide water for landscape irrigation, industrial and commercial uses.
The 2002 Southern California Comprehensive Water Reclamation and Reuse Study identified 30 projects in a six-county area with the potential to yield more than 450,000 AF. The cost of water recycling projects is approximately $600 to $1,500 per AF. This includes capital, operations, and maintenance costs. Using an Orange County Water District recycling plant as a case study, LAEDC estimates that the all-in cost of water from the plant is $1,000 per AF, including capital and operating costs, and treatment. The Eastern Municipal Water District, which has a smaller recycling operation, produces 13,700 AF of water per year at a cost of approximately $350 per AF.
The LAEDC estimates that the potential for stormwater capture in southern California is “tens of thousands of acre-feet.” Because stormwater capture depends on rainfall, it is less reliable than other alternatives. According to researchers with the American Society of Civil Engineers, stormwater capture programs can have environmental benefits; particularly those that remove contaminants from urban stormwater runoff, provide flow augmentation and keep polluted stormwater from entering local streams and rivers.
Stormwater capture can incur large initial costs, and operating costs vary significantly by facility. The LAEDC estimates that stormwater capture in Southern California would cost between $300 and $400 per AF, which includes treatment costs of $155 per AF. These numbers are highly site-specific.
Here in Orange County, we have a huge opportunity for additional capture of stormwater behind the Prado Dam when this project is completed in 2016. This dam has been developed only for flood control, but the Orange County Water District is working on long-term plans that would allow more water to be stored over a longer term and then percolated into our groundwater basin.
Stormwater capture is also practical at the homeowner level, as demonstrated in Surfrider’s Ocean Friendly Garden program, which helps individuals learn how to design their gardens to capture rainwater rather than have it drain into the gutters and then the oceans.
Desalination of groundwater is lower risk and less expensive than its ocean counterpart. It too requires substantial initial costs and is energy intensive. The facilities also impose external costs in the form of greenhouse gases, but require less energy than ocean desalination.
Groundwater desalination plants need not be located close to the coast. Using the Menifee Desalter facility in Riverside County as a case study, the LAEDC estimates that the cost per AF of groundwater desalination would be approximately $750–$1,200.
Representatives from the Richard A. Reynolds Groundwater Desalination Facility in Chula Vista, California, estimate that it produces water at a cost of $750 per AF, which includes capital and operating costs.