Desalination plant a flashpoint in West Basin District 3 race: 3 candidates, 1 seat

Michele Kwan, West Basin District 3 incumbent. Photo courtesy of the Kwan campaign.

Water engineer Desi Alvarez. Photo courtesy of Alvarez campaign.

Transparency advocate Doug Solomon. Photo courtesy of Solomon campaign

Three candidates are competing for one seat on the West Basin Municipal Water District board of directors, and an ambitious plan for a water desalination plant off the coast of El Segundo emerges as a major flashpoint.

Incumbent Carol Kwan has been on the WBMWD board since 1996. She is being challenged by Desi Alzarez and Doug Solomon.

The candidates are vying for the Division 3 seat, representing the cities of Hermosa Beach, Redondo Beach, Manhattan Beach, Lomita, and a portion of Torrance.

At the forefront of electoral issues is the proposed desalting plant. The district approved in November 2019 a final hurdle in planning for the desalting plant’s construction, an environmental impact report (EIR) addressing the plant’s potential to mitigate adverse effects on marine plants, fish and wildlife. Kwan was the lone vote against accepting the EIR. She says she opposes the desalt plant’s construction, joining her fellow candidates in that opinion “only recently because of the election,” according to one challenger.

The plan is threatened by a lawsuit filed last December by the Los Angeles Waterkeeper, which asserts the district ignored significant environmental issues in the EIR.

In response to the lawsuit, district officials said their actions were consistent with environmental laws. The desalt plan is designed to offset the possibility of earthquakes or other natural disasters interrupting the supply of imported water.

Eventual cost of the project would be $672 million, according to the district, or as high as $1 billion, according to a bevy of opponents.

The district provides drinking water for 17 cities and unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County, and is a member agency of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD). According to the district, it serves approximately 900,000 people.

Its water sources include imports from the Colorado River and the State Water Project; recycled local supplies; desalted underground, and conserved water.

The three candidates were asked by Easy Reader to outline their reasons for seeking the board seat. These reports use information provided by the candidates themselves.

Carol Kwan, West Basin Board Member, Division 3 

A member of the West Basin board for 23 years, Kwan was the first woman and Asian-American elected to that panel.  She is treasurer of the board and chair of its Finance and Administration Committee.

She takes pride, she says, in her efforts to “implement environmentally friendly solutions and educate the public about water conservation.”

Kwan was the innovator of the district’s annual Water Harvest Festival, designed to “inform community members about water conservation.” 

She says the event also “provides classes specifically for children to educate them about water saving practices that carry into adulthood.”

Several “water saving” practices implemented by the board at her direction are valuable, she contends, citing distribution of 650 rain barrels, grass removal classes, and low-flow toilet giveaways.” She also points to her efforts in working with local corporations to implement  water recycling measures. 

Kwan says she has been “the eyes, ears and voice during my time on the board serving my constituents. I stand by my record and my commitment to protecting our environment and helping identifying new innovative ideas on affordable and safe drinking water to our community.

Kwan will “continue to advocate for water conservation and an increase in recycled water,” she says. Her “understanding of the COVID-19 pandemic” prompted her to vote against the most recent West Basin budget and its proposed water rate increases.

 “I pledge to continue implementing sustainable water policies that will protect our precious resources and ensure safe, clean affordable water for all,” she says. 

Desi Alvarez, water engineer

Cuban-born Desi Alvarez has a long history of  Southern California water-related professional endeavors. He is committed, he says, to stopping the desalination plant, and re-focusing the district’s leadership toward what he called “common sense” projects to provide a“safe, reliable, and environmentally-sound water supply.”

He advocates reducing the region’s dependency of imported water by “developing enhanced water supplies by increasing the use of wastewater.” He also wants to reduce operation costs and “stop the perpetual annual increases in water rates.” Numerous district expenditures, including “board activities, outreach efforts, and excessive levels of staffing” should be targeted to concentrate on providing less expensive water to residents.

Alvarez also wants to “improve transparency between board actions and the public,” he said.  

“I am still amazed at the lack of knowledge the public has regarding water districts with their multi-million dollar budgets,” he said.

Alvarez is a water engineer with more than 30 years of “high-level” professional experience, which has given him, he says, “a proven track record of long-term strategic planning and program experience.”

“My professional career has been focused on environmental engineering and water resources,” he said, “and I was privileged to work for various private engineering firms and several public agencies.”                                                                                                                                                                       Alvarez ’s past professional positions include: Chief Executive Officer, Chino Basin Watermaster; Deputy City Manager, City of Downey; Director of Public Works/City Engineer, City of Downey and City of Redondo Beach; City Engineer, City of Santa Monica and City of Glendale; Engineering Manager, East Bay Municipal Utility District. He also has worked with consulting firms including Boyle Engineering.

He graduated cum laude in civil engineering from Loyola University, Los Angeles, and cum laude in civil engineering, with an emphasis in Water Resources and Environmental Engineering from the University of California, Davis.

Douglas Solomon, financial transparency advocate

Southern California native Douglas Solomon believes the West Basin district has lost the kind of focus that benefits consumers.

“I’ve attended desalting public hearings and read the environmental impact report, studied West Basin financial and operations reports, and attended board and committee meetings,” said Solomon. “West Basin needs to change and refocus on its mission of providing clean, sustainable water.”

Solomon has spent the past two decades working for “private business owners to improve the profitability of their manufacturing and distribution companies” and has served as interim CEO for  more than 20 companies.

Douglas says he is “completely opposed to West Basin’s ocean desalting plant, asserting it is “fiscally irresponsible and unnecessary.”

Douglas supports expanding the district’s waste water recycling plant to the 100 million gallons per day “that it was designed for,” he said, noting that the current capacity is only 35 million gallon a day. “The additional recycled water would reduce our dependence on imported water,” he added.

Douglas is critical of Kwan’s opposition to the desalt plant, noting she “voted for 23 years for desalting, and was part of West Basin’s expenditures of $65 million-plus on research and the CEQA report.  She only voted against approving the CEQA report because she was up for re-election,” he said.

The candidate seeks more “financial transparency” and hopes to stop board expenditures that “have nothing to do with importing and recycling water.”

California’s rules for direct potable reuse will be in effect in 2023, he noted, which will allow for blending with supplies from MWD, greatly increasing the available supply of fresh water for WBMWD users.

Solomon said he thinks “the WBMWD board needs fresh blood.  I will bring energy and try to create change for the better.  ”

An MBA graduate of UCLA, Solomon also holds a degree in economics from UC Davis. ER

 

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