Draft Desalination Rules Released: Local Citizens’ Predictions Come True Again
Many of the questions and concerns of local citizens, environmental organizations and ratepayers about proposed seawater desalination facilities will soon be resolved.
Last week the State Water Resources Control Board released draft regulations for seawater desalination facilities planned statewide. These rules are of particular interest in Orange County because there are two local proposals: the Dana Point proposal and the Poseidon-Huntington Beach proposal. After an opportunity for public comment, and any necessary modifications, the final rules are supposed to be adopted before year’s end.
The draft rules would clearly require significant modifications to the Poseidon-Huntington proposal. The Dana Point proposal was designed in anticipation of the rules, so plan modifications would likely be minor in comparison. According to Merle Moshiri of Residents for Responsible Desalination, “We are relieved the draft rule is finally available. It supports what we’ve been asking our water managers for many years – ‘do not spend our money on desal proposals before you know what the rules are’.”
Joe Geever, an environmental consultant assisting the local groups clarified the financial risks of moving too fast. According to Geever, the San Diego County Water Authority also ignored the concerns of local groups, and signed a contract with Poseidon to buy the water at a high price, with a provision allowing Poseidon to raise that price by 30% for modifications to comply with pending environmental regulations. “It was reckless for San Diego County to sign that contract and expose their customers to so much risk – especially when so many people pointed out the risks before the contract was signed,” says Geever. “But Orange County can learn from San Diego’s mistakes.”
Local citizen groups will be stepping up their advocacy for alternative solutions to Orange County water management challenges. For over a decade, these groups have stressed the importance of weighing all the benefits of different water management approaches. Says Tony Soriano of the local Surfrider Foundation chapter: “All our groups collectively helped get the award winning Groundwater Replenishment Program approved and funded over a decade ago, and we’ll do the same for expansion plans. It’s crazy to continue discharging freshwater to the ocean, and then pump it back out of the ocean to remove the salt – wasting money and energy while killing fish for no reason.”
Surfider and the others are educating the community and elected representatives about a list of alternatives that save money and help reduce ocean pollution, restore habitat and wildlife, and prepare for prolonged droughts and more intense storms predicted for the future. “We favor economically sound win-win solutions over desal,” says Soriano. Surfrider and Residents for Responsible Desalination have stressed conservation of water through the Ocean Friendly Gardens program, the only method that puts responsibility for water availability and pollution prevention directly into the hands of the rate payers.
View the California Drought and Seawater Desalination Issue Brief at www.cacoastkeeper.org/document/proceed-with-caution:-california%27s-drought-and-desalination.pdf.
These groups have stated they are not strictly opposed to seawater desalination. They simply argue that the best solutions should be fully implemented before spending public money on expensive and environmentally harmful desalination proposals.
Merle Moshiri, Residents for Responsible Desalination
Tony Soriano, Surfrider Foundation
Joe Geever, environmental consultant