By Lew Avera
Last month I wrote about our water shortage and the issues associated with it and the challenges we face. Much of what I wrote described the complex organizational structure that obtains and provides the water to all of southern California.
In addition, I asserted that the much-publicized El Niño we hear so much about would do very little to make up the shortages or to provide the water we need going forward. Briefly, since we have virtually no storage facilities either in San Clemente or all of Southern California, most of the rain from El Niño will flow directly into the ocean.
First in importance is understanding that 30 percent of the potable water in the entire state of California comes from the Sierra Mountains snowpack, which is 700 miles away from us in northern California. A majority of all of the water in southern California comes from this source via the State Water Project Southern California Aqueduct beginning in the Sacramento Delta and flowing to us via the San Joaquin Valley. In addition, we get a significant amount from the Colorado River via the Colorado River Aqueduct of 250 miles across the Mojave Desert. Very little of our water is from local sources, including normal rainfall.
The most significant—and a serious problem—is that the Sierra snowpack is practically non-existent. In 2015 that region has experienced the highest average temperatures in 120 years. What is usually up to 15 feet of snowpack is virtually dry. There is only a slight trace of snow dusting in some locations. The snowpack acts as a giant reservoir, releasing needed and small amounts of water over time.
We are fortunate, however, in that we live close to a natural source of water, the ocean, and in a county of genuine and forward-looking water experts who are ahead of the problem in a significant way. While we have not solved the problem, we at least have a jump on a solution and the potential for a major solution.
A large groundwater replacement system, the largest water recycling plant in the world, exists in Fountain Valley. At present, it recycles 100 million gallons of wastewater per day into potable water. This water is pumped into temporary underground storage and then distributed for potable water use to several water agencies in the county. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is planning another such facility to provide 150 million gallons per day, with the one in Fountain Valley going to 130 million gallons.
A second local solution is desalination, which is the conversion of ocean salt water into potable drinking water. This has been a very controversial subject due to environmental impacts on the ocean life; however, there is the very large de-sal plant in Carlsbad, ready for opening in November. In addition, plans are well along for another such plant in Huntington Beach, awaiting environmental impact and California Coastal Commission approvals. This could be a significant addition to our supply.
It’s also significant to recall that there have been preliminary plans for a small de-sal plant on our San Clemente border with Dana Point. They have been shelved, but perhaps now is the time to revisit them. At least we are close to a water source in these times of such a terrible drought. In addition to the environmental issues, one of the major issues with de-sal is the costs of having to pump the water all the way from the ocean edge to the users. Clearly, we in San Clemente have a real cost savings in this area.
Finally, these water issues are complex. There is no single or easy solution. The solutions will be complex and multifaceted. I would encourage all of us to read, study and understand them. Part of this is also potential climate change about which there is much disagreement. However, I have to believe there is something going on with the climate, if only for the short run.
We have no choice except to solve these problems. Our lives and those of our future generations depend upon it.
Lew Avera is a retired career officer, Lt. Col., U.S. Marine Corps. He has been a director of the Talega HOA since 2003 and served on the San Clemente Planning Commission from 2005 to 2013.