California Coastal Commission OKs desalination plant in Orange County
In a unanimous 2-1 vote Jan. 4, the California Coastal Commission approved the construction of a $300 million desalination plant by Orange County Water District in Laguna Beach, Calif., adjacent to the Santa Ana River.
The agency had previously rejected the project over concerns of increased sedimentation in the river. The California Coastal Commission now has no choice except to issue its decision because the Santa Ana River Watershed Management Act (WMA) allows the commission to approve or disapprove construction projects under certain conditions.
The plant is expected to draw on existing water storage, processing, and distribution infrastructure, with an estimated annual production of more than 11 million gallons per minute. It is expected to take roughly 1,100 construction workers 30 to 80 years to complete the project.
The project is expected to serve the greater Salinas/Riverside area – roughly 60 percent of which is below sea level – while also discharging its wastewater into the Santa Ana River and other estuarine waters.
“The desalination plant in Laguna Beach will boost Orange County’s water supply. It will add to the growing list of innovative projects that the commission is approving. The board’s decision was unanimously supported by its nine voting commissioners,” said board Chairman Tom Babbitt, a Los Angeles resident. “I commend the staff for the careful, thorough manner in which they reviewed this project. They made a reasoned decision and worked with the commission in a timely manner. This project is a small step toward providing greater environmental and economic benefits to Salinas and the communities it serves.”
A project that was opposed by the Salinas Valley Residents Association and by a coalition of businesses in the region, the California Coastal Conservation League, argued that the project would cause significant adverse environmental and economic effects on the region. The group argued that the plant would create “thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in new taxes,” but they did not dispute the need for a new water supply in the area’s drought-stricken agriculture belt.
Additionally, the project would likely cause significant visual impact and the displacement of approximately 20 homes in the area. “We are disappointed that the board did not take a more comprehensive look at this project. We will continue to monitor the effects