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DESALINATION COULD BOOST AREA WATER; PLANTS PLANNED IN EAST COUNTY MAKE GROUND SOURCES POTABLE.

Byline: Michael Coit Daily News Staff Writer

Vast and untapped groundwater too salty for drinking or irrigating is so plentiful in some east Ventura County areas that wells are needed to pump high water into creeks like the Arroyo Simi.

Just the right place for desalination plants that could help east Ventura County ease through the next drought, area water managers say.

Promising a yield equal to nearly one-fourth of what the region imports each year from the State Water Project, the Calleguas Water Recycling Project also is less expensive and energy-intensive compared with desalinating ocean water.

``It's the right thing to do in our climate, particularly with the environmental problems and issues of imported water. And when you think about the (1994 Northridge) Earthquake and the interruptions of our local supply, it just makes sense to improve local water supplies,'' said Rich Atwater, the project consultant, who developed a similar project while general manager for the West Basin Municipal Water District in the South Bay.

The Calleguas Water Recycling project, expected to go on line in four years at a cost of more than $40 million, envisions placing desalination plants in Simi Valley, the Las Posas Valley and Camarillo.

For the past year, Atwater and area water managers have drafted a project that would put the region on an expanding list of groundwater recycling projects supported with funding from the Metropolitan Water District.

The Calleguas project - named for the creek that drains several creeks and ends in Mugu Lagoon - is part of a larger effort to improve management of the east county watershed. Other issues taken on by a management group led by Supervisor Judy Mikels include flood control, farmland erosion and water quality.

Managed ecosystem

Desalination would produce drinking-quality water and remove salt that increasingly is clogging valuable soil and saturating precious groundwater, said Don Kendall, general manager for the Calleguas Municipal Water District.

He contends that the project would be a way to deal with mostly human-generated water quality problems, namely runoff from urban areas and treated wastewater released into creeks, without a heavy hand from state and federal regulatory agencies.

Salt removal involves a reverse osmosis process that forces water through a dense filtering membrane, removing salts, nitrates and other minerals. The plants produce drinking-quality water and the brine left behind would be sent down a pipeline into the Pacific Ocean.

The promise of a 20,000 acre-foot annual yield would make the project the largest in Southern California.

A dozen similar groundwater desalination projects supported by the Metropolitan Water District are expected to produce some 13,000 acre-feet of drinking water this year, said Andrew Sienkiewich, a principal engineer for MWD and manager of the agency's local resources program.

``These are brand-new water supplies that these projects provide. It helps us displace requirements for importing water,'' said Sienkiewich.

MWD helps manage and improve water supplies in a region that spans from Ventura County to San Diego county, taking in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

The desalination projects now on line also are projected to remove 55,000 tons of salt in Southern California this year, Sienkiewich said.

Salt building up

``Salinity has been a longstanding problem and it really shows up in the groundwater basins because they are the repositories,'' he said. ``We have more coming in than going out.''

Sienkiewich is leading a two-year study of the impacts salinity has on water supplies.

As an example of how salt builds up, Sienkiewich noted that State Water Project supplies typically have 300 milligrams per liter of salt. When that water is used and ends up in runoff or in treated waste water flowing from sewage plants, an additional 250-400 milligrams per liter of salt has been added.

Reusing that water for irrigation helps reduce demand on drinking water, but reclaimed water is not drinking-water quality.

The seven-year drought that ended in 1992 led the South Bay water agency then under Atwater's helm to develop its desalination plant. Completed in spring 1993, the plant produces 1,800 acre-feet of drinking water annually.

Kendall said east Ventura County can't wait for the next drought to start developing the proposed desalination plants.

Cost an obstacle

The cost to produce water by desalination could be an obstacle for proponents. At $600 to $700 an acre-foot, such a supply is more expensive than the $492 an acre-foot Calleguas charges for State Water Project supplies.

But water managers warn that imported water costs will continue to rise as a result of environmental regulations and the need to develop new sources in the absence of a push for alternatives, such as reclamation and desalination.

The city of Santa Barbara spent $1,900 an acre-foot to construct a desalination plant in the midst of the last drought and only used it for four months before the first of a succession of above-average winter rainfalls replenished Lake Cachuma. Even if that cost were reduced by long-term financing, the plant would cost $1,300 an acre-foot, said Bill Ferguson, the city's water supply planner.

Ferguson, however, defended the Santa Barbara's action. He said developing new water sources is not inexpensive and the plant is there for the next drought.

``If it didn't rain, we would still be using that thing full-bore,'' Ferguson said.

``We're still expecting to use it. We expect to have a drought somewhere down the road,'' he added. ``But probably not for another seven to 10 years.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 22, 1997
Words:908
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