While recent rains remind Californians how precious water is, one water agency in the South Bay is campaigning for resources to make ocean water suitable for personal use. West Basin Municipal Water District is among the more than a dozen agencies hoping to get approval to launch a desalination project. Currently, San Diego County is the largest producer of drinking water which comes from the ocean—50 million gallons a day. Poseidon Water built the operation and wants to build another in Orange County.
If developed to full capacity, though, the South Bay project would be even bigger. The proposed plant could produce up to 60 million gallons a day, making it the largest in North and South America, according to data provided by the International Desalination Assn. and DesalData.com.
West Basin, a public agency that provides wholesale drinking and recycled water to much of southwest Los Angeles County, wants to build a desalination plant at its current power plant in El Segundo. After years of research, West Basin will release an environmental impact report this year.
The desalination process involves taking water into the plant, stripping the water of its salt, and then discharging the salty brine that remains back into the ocean. The new state rules deal with both the intake and discharge methods, which can harm marine life.
The proposed plant is estimated to cost up to $900 million to construct, depending on its size, and would not open until 2023. Customers would see their bills increase between $3 and $5 a month.
West Basin General Manager Rich Nagel said other water conservation measures, such as stormwater capture and recycling have been largely exhausted. Desalination would help the agency cut their imported water costs, because a local plant could supply an additional 10% to 15% of water.
“It’s drought security; it’s drought resiliency,” Nagel said. “If we don’t do projects like this and do nothing, by the year 2035, we’re going to have to ration water eight out of every 10 years. That’s unacceptable for our society.”