EIR for desal project approved

An ocean water desalination project that has been opposed by all three Beach Cities moved closer to reality Monday when the regional water district voted to approve key planning documents for the project.

The West Basin Municipal Water District’s Board of Directors voted 4-1 to certify the Final Environmental Impact Report for a desalination plant proposed on the coast just north of Manhattan Beach’s border with El Segundo. Board member Carol Kwan, who represents the Beach Cities, was the lone no vote. 

Ocean water desalination, in which salt and other compounds would be removed from water in the Pacific and introduced into the water supply for drinking and other potential uses, could have numerous potential benefits, West Basin said, including “reducing reliance on imported water, improving water security through increased local control of water supplies,” and “improving climate resiliency” by providing a water source that is not dependent on the shifting volume of rain and snow that arrives each year.

Opponents, however, have said that the project poses significant environmental issues. The desalination process is energy-intensive, even more so than carrying imported water hundreds of miles from other parts of the state. And it also arrives as alternatives for enhancing the water supply, many of them focused around water recycling and which are less energy-intensive, are becoming more widespread. 

According to the West Basin statement, Monday’s decision to certify the EIR is not a guarantee that it will undertake construction. Agency staff will develop more precise estimates for the price of the plant, and produce a cost-benefit analysis, both of which would need to be approved by the board.

Under the California Environmental Quality Act, however, project opponents have a limited time to challenge an agency’s approval of an EIR. Bruce Reznik, executive director of the nonprofit LA Waterkeeper, said that his organization intends to file a lawsuit challenging the project.

“This means to us, to LA Waterkeeper, that this project is a go. Also, legally it means, once it’s certified, we have 30 days to sue,” Reznik said.

Among other issues, the final EIR, released last month, did not adequately estimate the greenhouse gas emissions associated with a plant, Reznik said. West Basin has said it will purchase emissions offsets that would make the project carbon neutral. But the volume of emissions associated with desalination, as well as whether construction of the plant would actually result in a reduction in imports from the Metropolitan Water District, is disputed.

The documents analyzed the impacts of a “local project” that would produce 20 million gallons of drinkable water per day. But language in the approved resolutions states that the board’s action “does not preclude further adoption of the regional project,” which refers to a larger plant that could produce as much as 60 million gallons per day.


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