Thursday, June 25, 2015

Catalina Island's Water Restrictions: Update

The Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce CEO responded to my phone call last week.

He emphasized that the Stage Three water restrictions are not yet in place. Yet.

"There are a lot of layers to this onion."

The city of Avalon will be working in partnership with Southern California Edison to allow for water reusage. The city manager can provide more information on this matter.

An Avalon press release earlier this month details the steps that the island community is taking to deal with the California drought:

City Manager/City Attorney’s Offices – Proposed Southern California Edison Additional Desalination Unit at Pebbly Beach Generating Station

In what is very likely the LEAST best-kept "secret" in town, the City has been working closely with Southern California Edison regarding the proposed addition of a second desalination unit at SCE’s Pebbly Beach facility, with output capacity of approximately 150,000 to 200,000 additional gallons of freshwater per day – twice Avalon’s required off-peak water demand. The proposal for the additional unit stems from the community’s desire to stave off Phase 3 water rationing, that comes with the accompanying requisite fifty-percent reduction in water use from the baseline period. While residents and visitors to the City of Avalon and greater Catalina Island have done an exemplary job of doing their part to reduce water usage – realizing at least a thirty-three percent reduction at last report from SCE – it is widely believed that additional conservation beyond what is currently being done will be difficult. Further, certain important components of the local economy – notably hotels – would be hard-pressed to achieve a reduction in water usage of fifty-percent without having to limit their available inventory.

Phase three would mean a 50% reduction. That strict measure is a stunning direction for any community to take in order to deal with the water problems afflicting California. Hotels and restaurants, the major sources of revenue, would be hard hit by such restrictions.

Desalination plant in Barcelona, Spain

The bottom line is that Phase 3 water rationing would likely have a significant impact on the island’s economy, with the trickle down impact on the municipal organization being a reduction in revenue. Accordingly, City staff is pleased with the cooperative effort being undertaken with SCE. A proposal for a significant City of Avalon contribution to the desalination project – to be proposed at $500,000 – will be coming forth for City Council review and consideration in the near-term. City staff is aggressively reviewing potential grant sources (including the Prop 1 water bond, which contains proposed funding for desalination) to backfill the cost of the project, or at least, a portion of the cost of the project.

Municipalities face great expenses to generate more water.

Meanwhile, SCE is completing and submitting the requisite permitting required. This afternoon, in fact, SCE filed its permit for the project with the California Coastal Commission. Many additional important steps remain to bring this project to fruition – including potential challenges related to the plant’s discharge. Both SCE and the City of Avalon hope that this additional desalination unit could be online as early as the Fall, around the time that Phase 3 water rationing is predicted to commence. Should the project timeline and the onset of Phase 3 water rationing not coincide, SCE is also pursuing regulatory relief to prevent the inevitable lower reservoir levels with automatically triggering a required use in water reduction (with the thought that the reservoir level trigger could be relaxed if the additional desalination plant was close to coming on-line).

One comment I had read about Catalina Island and their water rationing predicament discussed that the island community had a desalination plant. "What about it? What happened to it?" The truth is that a desalination plant already exists there, but instead of relying exclusively on drastic water reductions, the city wants to construct another.

Desalination plant (Catalina Island Blog)

And yet a second plant will not serve as a long-term solution for the severe water shortage.

It is important to recognize that this additional proposed desalination unit is not the solution to the island’s water challenges; instead, it is only a short term resolve to prevent the onset of Phase 3 water rationing. However, with a "patchwork quilt" approach of other remedies – including proposed additional potential wells, reclaimed water and advanced technologies, ultimately Catalina Island and the City of Avalon will have a more sustainable and promising water-related future.

Major reports have related that San Diego is discussing construction of a desalination plant, but one already exists within the South Bay/Harbor region. Worse still, however, this plant is not going to solve the water needs for a busy community which relies on travel and tourism.

More to follow.

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