Diversifying Orange County’s water portfolio
Jose Solorio, State Assemblyman serving Anaheim, Garden Grove and Santa Ana
Today, many of those agricultural fields lie fallow. There simply isn’t enough water to grow as many crops as we once did. Our state faces what may become the worst drought in its history while environmental restrictions are limiting the flow of water through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The empty fields stand as a reminder of what Californians need to do to preserve our way of life, our jobs, and our economy.
On Nov. 4, with a series of five bills, the California Legislature passed comprehensive water legislation that set historic precedents in water policy and addressed what I call water’s essential 3C’s: capture, convey and conserve.
Conserve: The new legislation sets a goal for urban water usage to drop by 20 percent. The “20 by 2020″ target for the state allows water agencies to choose one of four methods for determining their own water-use target for 2020. Water suppliers also can choose to join with a broader group of suppliers to meet the targets regionally.
Orange County knows how to conserve water and the legislation was crafted to give credit to communities that have a history of conservation. Although we’ve grown by more than one million people over the past 25 years, our water use in Orange County has stayed relatively flat. More Californians need to follow our best practices to conserve water.
Capture: The Safe, Clean and Reliable Drinking Water Supply Act of 2010 is an $11.14 billion bond that will be on the ballot next November. It will fund numerous water storage and water transfer projects, water recycling and conservation projects, and watershed protection efforts. The bond proposal allocates $1 billion to specific regions for the purposes of integrated regional water management, $1 billion for water recycling and another $1 billion for groundwater protection and water quality. Naysayers have called these allocations “pork,” but legislators who voted for the measure know these projects are integral to becoming less reliant on the Delta’s imported water. Resources in the water bond will be very useful in helping counties capture rainfall and recycle water.
Orange County has been leading the way in the development of new water supply options. The Groundwater Replenishment System is a great start. But our county and counties across the state need additional resources to continue to better capture and recycle water.
Convey: The new water legislation structures governance for the Delta that mandates the co-equal goals of restoring the Delta ecosystem and maintaining water sustainability throughout the state. The newly created Delta Stewardship Council will be the ultimate authority to weigh the merits of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, a strategy in the works that may lead to new forms of conveyance through and around the Delta. It’s been decades since then Governor Pat Brown built major infrastructure projects to convey water around the state. The Bay Delta Conservation Plan will be the vehicle that drives water infrastructure into the 21st century.
Today, Orange County relies on imported water for about 50 percent of our needs, and in south Orange County, that number climbs to about 90 percent. With this recent legislative package, imported water will be more reliable, but not necessarily enough to meet our growing needs.
So, just as it is wise to diversify one’s personal financial portfolio, it is wise for Orange County to diversify its water portfolio.
Orange County will soon be home to the largest, most technologically advanced and energy efficient seawater desalination facility in the Western Hemisphere. Poseidon Resources, a private water infrastructure developer, is in the final stages for the permitting of the county’s 50-million-gallon-per-day desalination project in Huntington Beach. Because the facility is co-located with a coastal power plant, the seawater that is purified has already been used once to cool the turbines of the power plant. By recycling the seawater that has already been used for industrial purposes by the power plant, the environmental impacts of the desalination plant are negligible. In the future, if and when the power plant is decommissioned, the desalination plant can use the power plant’s existing seawater circulation pipelines without any significant marine life or coastal impacts.
Desalinating seawater goes through the same reverse osmosis process as is used by bottled water companies. And, due to the quickly increasing cost of imported water and the rapidly decreasing cost of “desal” water, Orange County will soon have a new high quality drinking water supply at a price comparable to imported water.
Orange County, with its long history of self-reliance and independence, is slowly reducing its dependence on imported water. By implementing my essential 3C’s and investing in public/private partnerships to deliver new water supplies, Orange County will have a truly balanced water portfolio.