Catalina Island News

Proposed Southern California Edison Additional Desalination Unit

Southern California Edison

The City of Avalon has been working closely with Southern California Edison regarding the proposed addition of a second desalination unit at SCE’s Pebbly Beach facility, with output capacity of approximately 150,000 to 200,000 additional gallons of freshwater per day,  twice Avalon’s required off-peak water demand.

The proposal for the additional unit stems from the community’s desire to stave off Phase 3 water rationing, that comes with the accompanying requisite fifty-percent reduction in water use from the baseline period.

While residents and visitors to the City of Avalon and greater Catalina Island have done an exemplary job of doing their part to reduce water usage – realizing at least a thirty-three percent reduction at last report from SCE – it is widely believed that additional conservation beyond what is currently being done will be difficult. Further, certain important components of the local economy, notably hotels, would be hard-pressed to achieve a reduction in water usage of fifty-percent without having to limit their available inventory.

The bottom line is that Phase 3 water rationing would likely have a significant impact on the island’s economy, with the trickle down impact on the municipal organization being a reduction in revenue. Accordingly, City staff is pleased with the cooperative effort being undertaken with SCE.

A proposal for a significant City of Avalon contribution to the desalination project, to be proposed at $500,000, will be coming forth for City Council review and consideration in the near-term. City staff is aggressively reviewing potential grant sources (including the Prop 1 water bond, which contains proposed funding for desalination) to backfill the cost of the project, or at least, a portion of the cost of the project. Meanwhile, SCE is completing and submitting the requisite permitting required. SCE filed its permit for the project with the California Coastal Commission.

Many additional important steps remain to bring this project to fruition, ncluding potential challenges related to the plant’s discharge. Both SCE and the City of Avalon hope that this additional desalination unit could be online as early as the Fall, around the time that Phase 3 water rationing is predicted to commence. Should the project timeline and the onset of Phase 3 water rationing not coincide, SCE is also pursuing regulatory relief to prevent the inevitable lower reservoir levels with automatically triggering a required use in water reduction (with the thought that the reservoir level trigger could be relaxed if the additional desalination plant was close to coming on-line).

It is important to recognize that this additional proposed desalination unit is not the solution to the island’s water challenges; instead, it is only a short term resolve to prevent the onset of Phase 3 water rationing. However, with a “patchwork quilt” approach of other remedies including proposed additional potential wells, reclaimed water and advanced technologies, ultimately Catalina Island and the City of Avalon will have a more sustainable and promising water-related future.

Ben Harvey
City Manager, City of Avalon