District Boosts Water Reliability

Desalination, Conservation, Supply and Quality Programs Move Ahead

Innovative programs with long-range impacts on Southern California's water reliability -- and its thriving economy -- were launched or furthered by the board of directors of the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) of Southern California.

"[The] meeting took some big steps, and a good number of smaller ones, to help keep high-quality water flowing from Southern California's faucets for decades to come, despite looming uncertainties of climate change, population growth, endangered species, and new water quality regulations," said MWD Chairman Phillip J. Pace.

The actions move forward initiatives to bolster future supplies by supporting seawater desalination projects; redouble commercial conservation efforts; improve water quality by decreasing salinity in supplies from Northern California and the Colorado River; and increase underground storage and retrieval facilities.

The board:

* Approved a seawater desalination program that this fall will seek economically and environmentally sound proposals to convert ocean water into drinking water. Once operating, projects could receive Metropolitan support of up to $250 per acre-foot(a) produced.
* Approved $5.5 million to continue the district's highly successful conservation rebates program for commercial businesses, industries and institutions for several more years.
* Adopted principles for establishing cooperative programs with the Kings River Water Association, which delivers irrigation water to more than 1 million acres in Fresno, Kings and Tulare counties.
* Endorsed a bill in Congress, H.R. 2764 introduced by Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, that would help California continue to reduce its use of Colorado River water, as well as reclaim the troubled Salton Sea.
* Appropriated $1.6 million for a public/private program working to lower salinity levels in water from the Colorado River. High salinity causes corrosion that is costly to homes, business and industry, and limits the use of recycled water for irrigation and groundwater recharge.
* Authorized an agreement with the state Department of Water Resources to receive $35 million toward construction costs of a project to store Colorado River water in the Hayfield groundwater aquifer adjoining Metropolitan's Hinds Pumping Plant, east of Palm Springs.

The board's support for encouraging seawater desalination technologies reflects Metropolitan's half-century search for an economically sound and environmentally safe method of converting ocean water into drinking water. Desalination costs have long been many times the cost of imported water, but recent technological advances bode lower costs.

"Our action today begins a public process that we hope will culminate in Metropolitan's financial support of viable desalination projects in the same manner that we support water recycling and groundwater clean-up projects," Pace said.

"While at this point we don't see desalination becoming the backbone of our region's water supply, which now is imported water from the Colorado River and Northern California," he said, "we want to encourage its development as part of the mix of resources that we can turn to during dry periods."

It is estimated that project review and contract negotiations would take a year, followed by up to three years for detailed design and construction. Based on this preliminary schedule, desalination plants could be operating by 2007.

Metropolitan Water District of Southern California

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