About the project
The Orange County Water District is exploring ocean desalination as a way to increase local water supplies. This new source of clean water would reduce the region’s dependence on imported water sources from Northern California and the Colorado River that are vulnerable to drought, natural disasters, environmental concerns, and regulatory restrictions.
As currently envisioned, an ocean desalination facility would be built and operated by Poseidon Water in the City of Huntington Beach. OCWD would be responsible for determining the best way to distribute the water. The proposed facility would have the capacity to produce 50 million gallons of water per day, or 56,000 acre-feet of water per year, which is enough water for more than 400,000 people. OCWD is currently considering whether the purchase of this new source, if approved, makes sense for the 19 cities and agencies it serves.
OCWD considered and pursued similar desalination exploration efforts back in the 1970s, but walked away when it didn't make sense for the region. Since then, technology has improved, the region's population and economy have grown and California has experienced many droughts. The current and unprecedented drought highlights the instability in the region's supply. Even if heavy rains occur one year, OCWD will continue to see instability in water supplies for potentially decades. Ocean desalination is the kind of critical investment in water reliability that OCWD has been making for more than 80 years and deserves careful consideration.
Imported water will always be available in the quantities we need and will remain a reliable, cost-effective source of supplemental water.
Desalinated ocean water could represent an important future source in diversifying the mix of water supplies for Orange County and reducing the region's need for imported water. Without the development of new local supplies, agencies will have to seek more imported water, which is less reliable and about three times more costly than local groundwater. It's OCWD's duty to explore whether ocean desalination is a good option to provide long-term water supply reliability for Orange County.
A desalination project for Orange County is a done deal.
A desalination project serving Orange County must still clear many hurdles. Since 2010, OCWD has been proceeding carefully and methodically in studying all aspects of this project in preparation for the possibility that regulators allow the project to move forward. After careful review and input from multiple agencies and organizations, OCWD has approved a term sheet that indicates a desire to evaluate, in much greater detail, the ideal terms of a final agreement with Poseidon Water that could make it economically feasible to purchase water from the Huntington Beach Ocean Desalination Facility. A term sheet does not commit either party to future actions. It serves as the framework to develop an actual water purchase agreement with Poseidon Water.
Desalinated water will always be more expensive than any other form of outside water delivery to Orange County.
The cost of imported water has increased at a historic rate of around six percent annually and is expected to continue to rise in the coming years. And while ocean desalination is currently more costly to produce, there are future scenarios where ocean desalination water could become less expensive than imported water as technology continues to advance. Additionally, increasing locally controlled water supply has a value and can be critical to the economy and way of life in Orange County. OCWD has a responsibility to consider investing now in technology that will sustain Orange County in the long-term.
Desalinated water would replace an equal amount of imported water.
Desalinated water would be an extra source of supply for the region. If imported water is always available then, yes, the desalinated water would replace an equal amount of imported water. Under this scenario the Poseidon Water facility would become more of an insurance policy for the region in case large earthquakes or other natural disasters reduce or prevent imported water from being brought into our area. Today, sufficient imported water is not available in the quantities desired and residents and businesses are being forced to cut back on their water needs. If the Poseidon Water facility was up and running at this time, mandatory conservation measures would be unnecessary or may not apply to the region.
Ocean desalination plants are harmful to the environment.
Significant advancements in desalination technology and operation have reduced environmental impacts. Poseidon Water, the project lead for the Huntington Beach project, already has been required by the State Water Resources Control Board and the California Coastal Commission to make improvements in the facility to protect ocean wildlife. Considerable attention has and will be paid to ensuring the facility would not have a significant environmental impact. Special considerations will be given to the seawater intake and brine discharge operations.