With the race for three open seats on the San Clemente City Council approaching, the San Clemente Times posed a series of four questions to all 12 candidates.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve published their responses—one per week—to give readers more insight before casting their votes by Nov. 8. Here, we present their responses to our final question.
The list of candidates is published according to the random alphabet drawn by the California Secretary of State.
Question 4: The South Coast Water District’s long-standing efforts to build its Doheny Ocean Desalination Plant is starting to gain momentum while the agency continues searching for partners—potentially, the City of San Clemente. What are your thoughts on the area’s water infrastructure, and should the city consider a partnership with the SCWD?
We’re in a drought, and water is a finite resource. We all need to conserve, but conservation alone is not a guarantee of access to water now and in the future.
The Doheny project, as I understand it, will draw water through the ocean, remove all the salt, and distribute clean drinking water throughout the district and with partnering entities. It’s been in the works for more than 15 years, so it’s not a quick fix.
That said, I support the interest of creating a local source for drinking water and reducing our dependency on imported water. We all want a more reliable water supply.
Unlike the Poseidon project, which has been permanently stopped, Doheny will use slant wells to draw water in from beneath the ocean floor—a safer alternative to Poseidon’s plan for open ocean intake, which would have posed a threat to any marine life that became trapped or sucked into its intake pipes.
They’ve learned from Poseidon’s mistakes.
A lot of factors still need to be understood and evaluated, but I am open-minded about the possibility of San Clemente partnering with the South Coast Water District on this project, especially given support by Coastkeeper and other groups, and the recent approvals by the San Diego Regional Water Control Board and support from nearby cities.
Finding solutions to water shortages requires a multi-pronged, multi-year approach. We, as citizens, must do our part by installing low-flow toilets, drip-watering systems, better positioned sprinkler heads, water-efficient appliances, and water-smart plants, as well as replacing lawns with turf or desert landscaping.
At the city level, we’ve imposed conservation efforts; we need to determine their impact on our city’s water consumption. A next step is to grow our use of recycled water. We are fortunate to be an exporter of recycled water.
However, preparing for extended droughts and future water shortages means considering other water sources, including desalination. The benefits of desalination need to outweigh environmental impacts.
The Coastal Commission recently rejected the proposed Huntington Beach plant, citing environmental concerns, but left the door open to the Doheny Ocean Desalination Plant, whose design appears to have significantly mitigated environmental impacts.
At this time, I’m not prepared to support a direct municipal investment or the use of a Joint Powers Authority where we join with the South Coast Water District in constructing the proposed privately run Doheny Plant.
My preference is for the use of private capital to develop, build and operate a desalination plant similar to the Poseidon-built plant in Carlsbad. Water from Metropolitan Water costs the city about $1,200 an acre-foot, with desalination water costing about $2,600 an acre-foot.
With a build cost in the tens of millions and desalination water costing more than double the cost of Metropolitan Water, we need to proceed very cautiously while recognizing the growing risk of severe water shortages.
California is in the midst of a record drought. To address this, all those impacted need to work together.
The Doheny Ocean Desalination Plant is an example of a bipartisan city policy that benefits its residents and is environmentally responsible.
In terms of a San Clemente and Dana Point partnership, I would want to analyze a feasibility report before I made any permanent decision.
If financially and environmentally sound, I would be proud to partner with Dana Point in order to make sure that our residents have a reliable source of water.
I consider climate change the biggest threat to humanity, period. We are already entering into our third year of La Niña and extreme drought, so our water supply is being drained more rapidly than we’ve ever seen in any of our lifetimes.
Water is a finite resource, so we’re frantically racing against major scarcity, and we simply can’t rely solely on the Colorado River to fill our reservoirs and taps.
Desperate situations call for desperate measures, and while I think desalination is a longshot in getting our water supply levels to a comfortable volume, San Clemente should at the very least be engaging with not only the South Coast Water District, but an agency that has fresh technological solutions to deal with this impending water crisis we all may face in the next 20 or 30 years (later, if we’re lucky).
All that said, desalination is not without severe marine ecosystem risks, especially in the environmentally sensitive area around Doheny, but we should be studying and analyzing all options to increase our water supply.
I don’t necessarily feel that San Clemente should commit to any particular project just yet, at least not without comprehensive environmental considerations and consulting from key stakeholders, but we should hear out SCWD on their possible solutions.
There are always going to be trade-offs with desalination, but the evolution of this technology enables the process to be hopefully more environmentally sound and cost-effective in providing much-needed supplemental fresh water.
Editor’s Note: This candidate did not respond to San Clemente Times’ requests to participate in the Q&A.
As our clean water sources continue to be depleted, we must look for alternatives. The concept of a local desalinization plant is a valid option, but we must closely study all the details and make sure we understand the financial burden for our city.
With the recent issues surrounding the Colorado River and Jackson, Mississippi, we need to be forward-thinking and ensure that our city’s water supply keeps flowing. We have an opportunity to be ahead of this.
Twenty-five years of my 35 years of service in the Navy was spent making fresh water from sea water, so this is an area I am very familiar with. There are still many questions that need to be answered.
I believe this should be an issue taken to our residents to vote upon. While there will inevitably be costs, it is a necessity that we cannot ignore. I will work to gain more knowledge and financial understanding so our city can make a well-informed decision.
Whether the city should be a partner with the SCWD on the desalination plant project depends on the cost-benefit analysis for our city and residents.
The desalinated water is substantially more expensive than the current wholesale price the city pays. The claimed benefit of supply reliability needs to be carefully examined and evaluated.
Our power grid has its own reliability issue, which may affect the water production in the plant. Environmental impacts that may affect San Clemente should be mitigated.
Most importantly, we are in the middle of a painful inflationary era, and I’m very concerned about the rising cost of living for our residents and businesses. There seem to be many other viable solutions to address the water shortage and reliability issues.
They include expanding recycled water system, upcoming San Juan Watershed groundwater recharge project, reinforcing water supply pipes through San Andreas Fault zone, increasing local emergency storage capacity, and using state water rights buyback program to divert water usage from Central Valley’s agricultural land to Southern California’s urban areas, etc.
All options should be studied, and I remain to be convinced.
It’s important to secure a locally controlled water source that reduces the reliance on imported water that continues to increase in price.
It may appear very expensive at this point in time due to the capital improvements necessary to bring this to fruition, but the viewpoint should look at what the cost will be long-term compared to where imported water is heading.
A majority of city water supply comes from the State Water Project through Metropolitan Water District, which has reduced their water allocations to water agencies by over 90% in 2022 due to the current drought.
Gaining more local control in water resources requires capital investment today for a sustainable future, but it must be measured and provide a return on investment long-term.
San Diego County Water Authority built a desalination plant in Carlsbad through a private-public partnership that now produces nearly 50 million gallons of water every day. Their rates consistently increase.
This water source and the proposed desalination plant with SCWD will be drought-proof and ensure we diversify our water sources. We all must be stewards of our precious water supplies and each agency, including the city, should have a seat at the table, promoting more local control to our way of life.
As city councilman, I will use my entrepreneurial skills to encourage federal and state funding for this project and get the best deal possible for San Clemente.
It is difficult to support a project that will increase our water rates and require a billion-dollar upfront investment. But what do we do when Sacramento cuts off our water? I’m prepared to lead.
Our area water infrastructure is aging, and it’s important to maintain city reserves to fund annual maintenance.
As treasurer of my HOA, I oversee millions of dollars in reserve funds allocated toward infrastructure maintenance, which, like any type of maintenance, extends the useful life of an asset.
Water delivery and recovery systems are becoming increasingly critical as our water supply is falling to meet supply demands. Therefore, it is imperative that we have a comprehensive audit on the current condition of our water infrastructure.
The audit results will provide the information needed to establish a basis for determining reserve funding requirements needed to ensure city funds are available to keep our water systems functioning for decades.
Yes, I strongly support considering a partnership in the effort to build a desalination plant. My caveat is that the city must carefully review and understand the agreement details to ensure the partnership will not transfer undue financial or operational risk to the city.
The availability of drinking and irrigation water is a staple to our survival. Without solutions to our need for new water sources, our city’s water shortage will continue to decline.
Why wouldn’t we support a desalination solution which meets our environmental requirements as a new water supply?
I have been a longtime advocate for desalination of ocean water for San Clemente residents. I have written a number of articles and op-eds in the last few years in support of desalination.
The No. 1 obligation of local government, next to public safety, is to provide a clean, safe and reliable water supply. San Clemente currently imports the large majority of our water from over 400 miles away.
This imported water is perpetually at risk from major droughts, earthquakes or man-made disasters. If interrupted, we could have limited or even no water for many months or longer.
Utilizing the unlimited water source we have right here at the beach is an obvious and logical solution. For many years, the cost of desalinated water was prohibitive. With increased technology, the cost is far more affordable, and the larger the plant, the less the cost.
I was successful in persuading our City Council to vote unanimously to begin the due diligence process of joining with the South Coast Water District in the development of the Doheny Desalination Project.
San Clemente should join Santa Barbara and Carlsbad in creating a potentially unlimited supply of fresh clean water for many generations to come.
Editor’s Note: Martina McBurney-Wheeler confirmed with San Clemente Times late last week that she has withdrawn from the race.