New cost study could revive Doheny desalination project – Orange County Register

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A central obstacle for a proposed desalination plant near Doheny State Beach has been the reluctance of southern county watersheds to become involved as partners.

But a thorough analysis of the financial projections presented over four hours on Thursday, September 2 – and the approval of an information campaign to explain the costs to these districts – gave the project promoter, the small South Coast Water District, l hope that he will soon be able to consolidate these partnerships.

“I think that in the coming months, we will have an idea to know if it is a project of the partnership type or if it is an isolated project”, declared the president of the coast. south, Rick Erkeneff, at the online event. “This is a crucial meeting that we have been waiting for – that everyone has been waiting for – and now we have a very good idea of ​​what the costs will be.”

The tax analysis carried out by independent third-party consultants has offered good news for people living in the South County, especially if the South Coast has partners.

The additional monthly cost to the average household would be $ 2.38 for a $ 126 million factory producing 5 million gallons per day for several river basin districts, according to the report. If South Coast did on its own, that household increase would be $ 7.20 per month, for a $ 71 million plant that produces 2 million gallons per day. Previously, less accurate forecasts set monthly cost increases at $ 5 to $ 15.

The South Coast and most of the other southern Orange County watersheds depend on water from the Colorado River and northern California for about 90% of their supply, making them particularly vulnerable to drought shortages and to flow interruptions resulting from earthquakes. In Orange County alone, import pipelines cross five seismic faults, according to Thursday’s presentation.

A South Coast Water District survey found that an overwhelming majority of customers were willing to pay higher bills for desalination in return for increased water reliability.

2 desalination plants

Doheny’s desalination proposal was well ahead of Poseidon’s proposal for a 50 million gallon per day plant in Huntington Beach, according to a 2018 report from the Municipal Water District of Orange County, which manages imported water into the county. This is largely because the northern and central Orange County that would be served by Poseidon only depends on imports for 23% of its water, thanks to the vast groundwater basin and water recycling system. waste that largely isolates the region from drought.

The Poseidon plant could result in higher water bills for customers in that region, who currently pay less than customers in South County, because groundwater is much cheaper than imported water. This imported flux, in turn, is cheaper than desalinated water.

Additionally, Doheny’s plant would have less impact on marine life as it would suck water from the ocean through inlet pipes below the ocean floor, while Poseidon would draw water directly from the ocean. . This is one of the main reasons why the environmental group OC Waterkeeper supports the Doheny plant but opposes Poseidon’s proposal, and why the Surfrider Foundation opposes Poseidon but has remained neutral on Doheny.

Poseidon, who has been trying to build his Orange County factory for more than two decades, has also drawn wider opposition from the community, with audiences featuring dozens of enemies constantly speaking out against the project. During Thursday’s hearings on the Doheny plant, only two speakers opposed the project and the only concern that has grown has been the cost.

Potential partners at the Doheny plant are watching this financial aspect closely, including Thursday’s report, and are expected to take a close look at the new analysis.

“It interests us. And if it’s at that kind of pace (as stated), it would be good for everyone in the long run, ”said Don Bunts, assistant general manager of the Santa Margarita Water District.

Permits required

The Doheny plant was designed as a regional project, with the municipal water district and five southern county water agencies investing in the development of a demonstration project from 2002 to 2013. But despite the apparent success of these test wells, financial pressures and other water projects led all but South Coast to give up.

It has been a long and slow task since, but South Coast has now started the authorization process and is hoping the Regional Water Quality Control Board will vote on its application in December. The district is also in the preliminary stages of a lease with the State Lands Commission and has submitted a draft permit application to the Coastal Commission.

Poseidon, meanwhile, has a lease on state land and a regional license from the Water Board, and awaits a hearing before the Coastal Commission for his final license, after which he would finalize the terms. of the contract with the Orange County Water District.

South Coast is hoping its permit process will go quickly as it has been approved for a 2.7% federal loan that would cover nearly half the cost of the plant, with that approval expiring on June 30., 2022.

However, managing director Rick Shintaku said “there is still a good chance that we can get the full cost funded by the state loan for drinking water,” which would carry an interest rate by 1.67%. That approval would only be certain once all permits were issued, he said.

A survey of South Coast customers last summer found support for the project to be strong, with 76% willing to pay an additional $ 7 per month for desalinated water and 63% willing to pay $ 15. what’s more.

While this would indicate a willingness to pursue the south coast even if it does not attract partners, some board members have expressed reservations about this approach and it is not clear whether the district would proceed. of himself.


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