President's Message March 2016

 

The Orange County Water District is a strategist when it comes to water management, with a lot of practice over the past 83 years. It has successfully diversified its water portfolio with the goal of reliability.

OCWD makes decisions that are intended not to see the region through a current drought, but to ensure the availability and security of water supply for the next 40-75 years. Local water agencies in north and central Orange County typically require about 435,000 acre-feet of water annually to meet their needs. About one-third of that demand is currently met through much more costly imported water. The groundwater basin supplies about two-thirds. Of the groundwater supplies, the Groundwater Replenishment System (GWRS), the world largest advanced water purification project for potable reuse, supplies one-third of the basin water. Filling the basin with highly purified water has put us in an enviable position of allowing the 19 water producers in our service area to pump even more groundwater.

During the recent drought, we have realized that the State Water Project and the Colorado River, from which we receive most of our imported water, might not always be reliable. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which supplies imported water to Southern California, recently cut back its deliveries. Water supplies throughout the state have declined so much that the governor is now temporarily requiring everyone to reduce their water usage by an average of 25 percent.

We are all conserving water and OCWD is capturing more stormwater when it does rain. It’s not enough. The District, understandably, needs to look at other water sources.

OCWD considered and pursued 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 cyclical droughts. OCWD has an obligation to evaluate the merits of a desalination project proposal that was brought to us by Poseidon Water, and its potential role in contributing to Orange County's water security. Should further analysis demonstrate that it is in the District's best interest to manage the distribution of the water from this project, it will move forward.

Why now? The current and extended drought highlights the instability in the region's supply. Even if heavy rains occur one year, OCWD could continue to see instability in water supplies for potentially decades. It is the District’s responsibility to analyze all alternative water projects. Ocean desalination is a critical investment in water reliability and deserves careful consideration.

Following meetings with a Citizen Advisory Committee, the District agreed to a Term Sheet with Poseidon Water in May 2015 that would have Poseidon permit, finance, construct, and operate a new ocean desalination treatment plant in Huntington Beach.  The Term Sheet calls for OCWD to permit, finance, construct, and operate the necessary distribution facilities to transmit the ocean desalinated water to different locations in the region.  During the fall of 2015, OCWD staff developed eight different distribution options for consideration.  These options were reviewed and discussed with the OCWD Board of Directors during two workshops in February and March.  Five of the distribution options have been eliminated.  OCWD staff is focusing its analysis on the remaining three options. To learn more about these, view the Revised Poseidon Desal Workshop Presentation given on March 2. The District expects to have a third workshop and will notify the community when that workshop is scheduled. 

Community stakeholders are encouraged to attend and gain knowledge about this important issue that could affect 2.4 million people in north and central Orange County. Keep up to date by visiting www.ocwd.com/learning-center/ocean-desalination . Know that the Orange County Water District is actively working to secure our water future.

Cathy Green
President