Fight the drought with desalination
August 23, 2016
By JORDAN CUNNINGHAM
Despite last winter’s modest rainfall, California remains mired in its fifth year of drought. Sixty percent of the state has been categorized by the State Water Resources Control Board as being in “severe” or “extreme” drought. Hardest hit is the Central Coast and Central Valley, much of which is in the worst category of “exceptional” drought.
The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors declared a local drought emergency in March. Many of our communities have adopted mandatory water restrictions of up to 20 percent, and most residents have stepped up to limit their water use. These steps are good and necessary.
But given our climate, there always will be the potential for drought. For the good of our residents and local agricultural economy, we must actively pursue new water sources to expand our water supply locally.
Fortunately, we have the technology and opportunity to solve many of our water supply problems through expansion of desalination technology for a stable and drought proof water supply.
It is ironic that we live next to the largest body of water on Earth, but we find ourselves like the Ancient Mariner who complained, “Water, water, everywhere/ Nor any drop to drink.”
Desalination technology has evolved to where we are now able to remove the salt and other contaminants from ocean water in an environmentally-sensitive, cost-effective manner. One such desalination facility has been in operation for years at the Diablo Canyon Power Plant, mainly serving the plant’s operational needs.
In March the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors authorized $900,000 to research providing Diablo’s desalinated water to South County residents. A study concluded that the project “could be both technically and economically feasible.”
The county found that the one-time cost of the pipeline upgrades might be as low as $21.7 million and the cost of the desalinated water as low as $1,800 an acre-foot. That would make it economically competitive with other sources such as groundwater, recycled wastewater and purchasing state water.
Unfortunately, PG&E’s decision to close the plant by 2025 resulted in the company backing out of the desalination expansion plan. But we shouldn’t let this opportunity pass. Our leaders must step up and find a way to make this happen for communities like Avila Beach, Arroyo Grande, Pismo Beach, Grover Beach and Oceano.
We need to entice a private company to buy the desal facility from PG&E once the power plant closes, expand the desalination facility and enter into long-term water supply contracts with our cities and counties. This can be done over the next eight years with the right leadership and hard work.
There is no doubt that the Central Coast needs new and creative solutions to meet our water needs for our homes and crops. We need strong, effective leadership to make it happen. One of the reasons I’m running for state Assembly is to work proactively on long term solutions to our problems. Using desal technology to address our present and future water shortages is a top priority.
Thanks to technology and our proximity to the Pacific Ocean, we have the capability to solve our problems. It just takes political will and creative leadership.
Jordan Cunningham, a businessman and former prosecutor who lives in Templeton, is a candidate to represent the 35th Assembly District, which includes San Luis Obispo County and western Santa Barbara County.