South Bay environmentalists step up opposition to desalination plant in El Segundo

Setting the stage for the next big environmental battle in the South Bay, a group of activists on Monday announced a new coalition opposed to a $380 million oceanwater desalination plant proposed for El Segundo.

Megan Barnes | Daily Breeze | February 26, 2018 | Access Original

The announcement came hours before the West Basin Municipal Water District shared a March 27 release date for the project’s long-awaited draft environmental impact report.

West Basin, a Carson-based agency that supplies water to most of the South Bay, has spent more than 15 years and tens of millions of dollars exploring the idea of building a desalination plant to help make the region less dependent on imported water.

Years in the making

The plant proposed for the NRG power plant site on the border of Manhattan Beach would turn 20 million gallons of seawater a day into potable drinking water and have the capacity to produce another 40 million gallons a day to sell to other agencies.

It would be the first full-scale desalination plant in Los Angeles County.

Environmentalists say desalination should be a last resort and have raised concerns about the project’s potential impacts on the coastline, urging West Basin instead to expand its lauded water recycling program. The Edward C. Little Water Recycling Facility produces 40 million gallons of recycled water a day, though it is not yet drinkable by law.

Cities to weigh in

Surrounding cities that have yet to take a stance on the project, including El Segundo and Redondo Beach, will weigh in during the public comment period.

Manhattan Beach opposed the plant two years ago, and Inglewood offered support only if it meets new green standards and if the water costs about the same as recycled water.

The draft EIR was originally supposed to be released more than a year ago, but the process hit delays, including the hiring of a new lead consultant last year, Los Angeles-based Environmental Science Associates.

West Basin officials announced the release date and plans for two public meetings at Monday’s meeting of the district’s five-member board of elected directors.

The panel extended the public comment period on the draft EIR to 60 days, closing May 25. Public meetings are to be announced.

“We’ve really done a good job diversifying and reducing the amount of imported water that our region uses, however … West Basin only has one drinking water supply that we provide to our customers, that is the imported water supply,” said Technical Resource Manager Eric Owens. “Oceanwater desalination does represent one new source of water that is regulatorily available to us today.”

The meeting was attended by members of the new opposition group, Smarter Water L.A., which is made up of environmental organizations, including  L.A. Waterkeeper, Heal the Bay, Surfrider Foundation and the Environmental Water Caucus.

Even though the draft EIR hasn’t been released, the group hired a consulting firm, Powers Engineering in San Diego, to analyze desalination’s potential impacts on the environment.

The 30-page report found that the production of 20 million gallons of desalinated water a day would spew 44,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year, and concluded that West Basin does not need desalination to meet imported water-reduction targets.

“It is irrational to invest in ocean desalination before undertaking feasible, cost-effective, climate-friendly water supply solutions, including increased conservation, wastewater purification, stormwater capture, and desalting brackish groundwater,” L.A. Waterkeeper Executive Director Bruce Reznik said in a statement. “We live in a world of limited resources. Investing in the most expensive, energy-intensive and environmentally harmful option first inevitably diverts resources away from superior solutions.”

Conner Everts, facilitator of the Environmental Water Caucus, said “while we appreciate the due diligence West Basin is undertaking relating to this project, we are afraid that their massive investment in studying desalination — an estimated $63 million spent on nearly two dozen studies over 17 years — will put added pressure on the board to move ahead with this ill-conceived project. We urge West Basin to follow the old saying and not ‘throw good money after bad,’ and turn the page on ocean desalination.”

West Basin has touted the project as the most environmentally friendly desalination plant in the world, with features including the use of ultra-fine screens designed to prevent fish and other sea life from getting sucked into water intake pipes. Critics have said the technology provides little protection.

If approved by West Basin later this year, the project would need approvals from several regulatory agencies, including the California Coastal Commission, before it could begin operating in 2023.