Some New Approaches at the Orange County Water District
Orange County Water District
Since chemists and water industry scientists approach water quality and chemistry-related issues from different perspectives, an exchange of views is important for mutual understanding. Here, the water supply situation in the world and the current challenges that numerous chemicals pose for water districts are discussed.
There is not enough water worldwide to meet future needs and population demands. Both the United Nations and the World Bank have announced that the world is facing a water shortage. Unfortunately, 2 million people a year die due to lack of water or contaminated water. Disinfection is a very easy cure, but it does not always occur. As the global population increased from 2.5 billion to 6 billion, the water available per person dropped 58 percent.
WATER IN CALIFORNIA
In entering the global economy with increasing technology, more water is being used because technology requires it. Dams, reservoirs, and concrete canals have been built, but more has to be done to change the existing infrastructure. Since the 1960s nothing has been built in California even though the State Water Project was initiated. Since that time, the demand for water has increased 38 percent and new water supplies have increased by only 2 percent (which is actually a significant number). The State Water Project serves a little over 3 million acre-feet a year, all of which has come from local water supply development. Most likely, more water will not be available from state water project-type facilities. Consequently, conservation, water recycling, conjunctive use, brackish water desalting, ocean desalination, and water resource management programs will be needed.
Southern California is a leader in water conservation programs. Even with an increasing population, Los Angeles (LA) has kept water demand flat over the last 12 years through extensive conservation programs including education in the schools, programs in which toilets are replaced with ultralow-flow models, water audits, xeriscape (conservation of water and energy through landscaping), low-flow irrigation, and various conservation incentives.
Southern California has housing cost, infrastructure, transportation, and water supply problems. Colorado River cutbacks are impacting the area because water is being purchased from the Metropolitan Water District that has two sources of supply, the State Water Project and the Colorado River. There are problems in the distribution system so Colorado River water cannot be purchased from the Metropolitan Water District to replenish the groundwater basin. As a result, alternative sources of supply must be found, or there will be shortages of about 120,000 acre-feet a year in 2020.
As water districts face shortages, they must take water out of storage to meet the demand and turn off all surplus deliveries. Fortunately, Metropolitan’s state project allocation increased to 90 percent due to rain in April.
The population in California will increase by 15 million by 2020, and the state department of water resources predicts that there will be annual shortages of 2 million to 4 million acre-feet per year by that time. Since people continue to move into California, alternative sources must be found. Built with state resources in the 1960s, the State Water Project moves water from San Francisco into Southern California. Twenty-seven different agencies have participated in this facility, which is located from the San Joaquin Valley to Southern California. Southern California uses 2 million acre-feet of water from the bay delta in Northern California. The river and the system have to be managed
better for environmental considerations, yet people also want to drink the water. Farmers would like to use it to irrigate crops, and agriculture is one of the largest economies or businesses in California. Groups are fighting over this unresolved and unfunded issue. There was one major lawsuit on the environmental documentation surrounding this issue, and it was resolved about a year ago, but the process continues. There is no new operating plan or plan to implement environmental restoration. Additionally, there is no plan for dividing up agricultural use versus urban use for one of the largest projects in the state.
In addition to the State Water Project, there is a federal program called the Central Valley Project (CVP). Built by the Bureau of Reclamation, this series of dams, reservoirs, and canals moves water from the same delta area to San Joaquin Valley and then down to Kern County in Bakers-field. Taking more than a million acre-feet from the same watershed, the CVP delivers water solely for agriculture. There are recent court rulings and governmental rulings that environmental due diligence be paid on the CVP. Additionally, there is the Environmental Water Restoration Account for which the agricultural community has to give up water so that it can be used for environmental purposes. This represents a shift of water away from consumptive purposes back to the environment. Rather than creating more supply, it is used for consumption.
The LA Aqueduct comes from this same area and crosses over down into Southern California to the city of Los Angeles, moving a couple of hundred acre-feet of water from Mono Basin into the city of Los Angeles. The environmentalists around Mono Basin in the 1970s created the Mono Lake committee. In the late 1980s the city of Los Angeles had to use less water, and the level of Mono Lake had to stay at a prescribed elevation. Again, water was moved away from the urban environment. A well system was developed in Los Angles and water was pumped out of the Owens Valley area, turning it into a dry lake bed. This resulted in a loss of up 60,000 acre-feet of water a year—enough water to support 120,000 families. When the water supply from the LA Aqueduct is low, the city turns to the State Water Project and the Metropolitan Water District.
The Colorado River
California has been fighting over Colorado River water since the 1930s, and the Quantification Settlement Agreement involves the county of San Diego, the Imperial Irrigation District, and the Metropolitan Water District. The Department of the Interior has reduced by almost half the amount of water that Metropolitan can import from the Colorado River through the Colorado River Aqueduct, which comes across from the Colorado River to the LA Basin. The fight is over who has priority in terms of the water, and San Diego wants to take water from the Imperial Irrigation District area. Because of the driest couple of years on record, Lake Powell is down to less than 50 percent of its volume and 50 percent of the supply from the Colorado River Aqueduct has been lost.
THE ORANGE COUNTY WATER DISTRICT (OCWD)
In Orange County, OCWD’s mission is to provide safe water at a low cost while being sensitive to the environment. The OCWD is unique in that it was established in 1933 by a special act of the state legislature and has its own enabling legislation that governs everything it does. Primarily, like most water districts, Orange County was an agricultural community that had to find sustainable water supplies in a new political environment as it converted from an agricultural to an urban setting.
To ensure rights to the Santa Ana River, the groundwater basin has to be managed in a sustainable fashion so that this precious resource will be here for generations to come. The OCWD has 350 square miles in its district. Two mountains geologically divide the upper watershed from the lower watershed along the Santa Ana River. The Chino Groundwater Basin flows into the Orange County Groundwater Basin, and it is hydraulically connected through the Santa Ana River. Prado Dam goes up into Riverside and Big Bear.
Near the University of California at Irvine, the OCWD is at the tail end of the groundwater basin. It is contained within the Santa Ana River watershed, which goes north to the San Gabriel Mountains and Big Bear. It is the largest watershed in Southern California, and the OCWD is the proud owner of the Santa Ana River, which the state health department considers the second most impaired water body in California.
In Orange County, there are approximately 2.2 million people in about 20 cities, with a current demand of 510,000 acre-feet and growing to about 610,000 acre-feet. In this area, 66 to 75 percent of the water comes from the groundwater basin. For the last 11 years, 75 percent of demand comes from the groundwater basin, while the remainder has been imported from the Metropolitan Water District. However, in 7 out of the last 11 years, the OCWD pulled more water out of the basin than it put back in. This year, people are going to be able to pump only 66 percent of what they demand out of the groundwater basin. In Orange County, there is a socialized, managed groundwater basin where people learn how it can perform so that if they pump over a certain level they are fined.
Projects and Research
The Santa Ana River is 54 percent of OCWD’s water supply. In the 1940s the Corps of Engineers fixed the main
channel of the Santa Ana River, but it is hydraulically connected to the groundwater basin which is along the bottom of the river and gets a lot of recharge. Water is pulled from the Santa Ana River into artificial recharge basins; there are approximately 14 recharge basins and 20,000 acre-feet of storage. A tremendous amount of research on the fate and transport of water through the geology has been done to date.
Time, energy, and research have been devoted not only to water quality but also to physical operation of the facilities. Because there is so much silt in the Santa Ana River, a hardened crust forms and blocks the percolation capacity. A basin cleaning vehicle has been developed to keep up the percolation rate.
Over the last 30 years, the OCWD has heavily monitored and doubled the yield out of the groundwater basin, a feat that no other basin in California has been able to achieve. Because it is managed and not adjudicated, it has been able to get a lot out of this basin and to help Orange County grow.
The OCWD has also been involved with a number of research institutes, supporting them with financial, technical, and staffing resources. The OCWD has conducted a number of different projects and programs to increase its own replenishment supplies. There is limited Santa Ana River water, and the OCWD cannot buy anything from Metropolitan at the moment, but it is in the process of creating a project that will make its own replenishment water. However, the OCWD has outstripped its supply, has a limited capacity to recharge the groundwater basin, and needs to buy more recharge basins. It has to figure out other ways to get water into the basin besides creating open pits. An additional problem is an accelerated rate of seawater intrusion. Membrane treatment is the wave of the future. Much work has been done in the last decade, but more can be done. What kind of pretreatment and energy options can be created that reduce the cost of this treatment? The OCWD’s research found that advanced oxidation processes are interesting because these catalysts reduce not only energy but also chemical requirements.
The Orange County Water District has done a lot of research on reverse osmosis fouling, cleaning the water factory, membranes, and ultraviolet (UV) irradiation. It was also able to characterize the total organic carbon in water; however, the health department has taken and replicated the characterization as a regulatory requirement for all recycled water projects. Additionally, it just spent $10 million in eight years on the Santa Ana River water quality and health study. A source water characterization study of the Santa Ana River was also conducted covering its fate, transport, interactions, and interrelation with the geology of the basin. No other agency in California has done such an exhaustive analysis of its source water supply. The agency wanted to know how it could improve operations and provide a safer, more reliable, more sustainable product its consumers.
Now that this research is complete, the OCWD is building a project called the Groundwater Replenishment (GWR) System, in which it is going to take secondary treated effluent domestic wastewater from the Orange County Sanitation District. The OCWD will treat the water and build a 14-mile pipeline; half of the water will go to the top of the county into the spreading basins and be recharged into the groundwater basin, the other half will be injected into the seawater intrusion barrier, a project comprising 72,000 acre-feet a year.
The seawater barrier will improve so that there will be no seawater intrusion. Modeling shows that we have to be up around 30,000 acre-feet a year of injection. For the same price as buying water from the Metropolitan Water District, 70,000 acre-feet of water is being put into the groundwater basin, so at the same time the water supply issue is being solved. This new supply is contained within Orange Country and is environmentally benign and beneficial. The amount of discharge into the ocean is being reduced.
In the treatment train processes for the project, the OCWD has to perform source control, microfiltration, reverse osmosis, and UV disinfection. With all of the different chemical constituents that businesses discharge into the sewer system, it is very important to make sure that some of the chemicals do not go in but are dealt with through point source and onsite treatment.
CHALLENGES FROM THE CHEMICAL SCIENCES
The chemical sciences have created challenges for the water supply industry. New industrial and household chemicals introduced into society, such as hair care products, contaminate rivers, lakes, and groundwater basins. Chemicals are commonly detected in ultratrace quantities by increasingly sensitive tests. Since only the level of a chemical and not its consequences are reported, the public has become increasingly skeptical. As a result, the water industry and the regulatory community face challenges to provide accurate information to the public.
For example, there is a debate about whether the arsenic standard should be set at 5 or 10 parts per billion (ppb). The water district can handle 10 ppb, but if the standard is set at 5 ppb, Santa Ana River water cannot be used because it has naturally occurring arsenic levels of 6 ppb. In that case, 300,000 acre-feet of water could be lost. Is this level of arsenic really a risk? The issue has to be presented in a health risk information context. Because the information is not available, establishing appropriate risk-based monitoring requirements and regulatory limits is difficult.
Local water supply projects are at risk of not being implemented, and water sources have been removed from service. The levels are well below the maximum containment levels, but the sources have been closed due to public perception and political fear about the safety of the water supply.
The Whittier Narrows Montebello Forebay Project in LA County recharges tertiary treated effluent from domestic wastewater into the groundwater basin. The OCWD cannot
conduct tertiary treatment, but instead is doing source control, microfiltration, reverse osmosis, and UV oxidation. The processes are very expensive, and a $100 million project has become a $450 million project. There is a certain amount of risk in the chemistry of the water that people must be willing to live with, because this money is probably better spent on urban housing, transportation, and social issues.
Therefore, multiple scientific disciplines must be integrated into the research and applied methodology to determine what is safe, sustainable, and acceptable. The chemistry of these contaminants must be understood, such as what they are, how they interact with other chemicals and other constituents, what their fate and transport are, and what the health-based aspects are. In this way, chemists and water scientists can work together to achieve a safe, lasting water supply.
David Layton, of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, noted that Orange County should be commended for its innovative research in these areas and sets a great example for many water agencies across California and throughout the country. He asked what retailers are going to do now that they are being cut back and whether Metropolitan can meet the water needs of Southern California for 20 years as planned.
In her response Ms. Grebbien said that retail agencies were unhappy that groundwater production had been cut back. The total cost to them was more than $10 million because they had to buy Metropolitan water instead. As a result, the OCWD developed a collaborative process in which information about the status of the water supply was shared and suggestions were discussed. The group’s suggestion was to continue pumping the water. Ms. Grebbien approached her Board about the issue, which said it did not want to be known as the Board that let the basin get overdrafted to the point at which it would be harmed. The OCWD eventually took the blame for increasing rates. Orange County residents knew they had a duty to protect and preserve the groundwater and were willing to pay the price. This experience showed that the water levels will eventually go back up, so a problem and a solution exist.
Southern California’s Future Water Needs
In response to the second part of Mr. Layton’s question, Ms. Grebbien said that one must look past the headline of the Metropolitan (Met) report and into the body of the report and its assumptions. The Met is reliable, not because its supplies are increasing but because all of the local agencies are increasing theirs. This is all based on local water supply development. According to the Met report, 320,000 acre-feet will be pumped out of the groundwater basin. It is reported that in 2020 the value will be 465,000 acre-feet. The Met is reliable because it has the water district pumping 465,000 acre-feet, doing the GWR project, and doubling the GWR project. There is state bond money to go toward local supply development, and the water district needs Met’s help with the regulatory community in order to succeed.
OCWD Water Rates
Dennis Hjeresen, of the Green Chemistry Institute, pointed out that the Albuquerque Journal in New Mexico started a series on New Mexico water issues. The first lead story was looking to the successes and featured Orange County and Southern California. He asked how the OCWD compares water rates to others for average citizens; what the water districts do for local companies, particularly with regard to chemical contamination; and what tools are provided to help reduce that source contamination.
Ms. Grebbien replied that the rates were significantly increased by 18 percent, corresponding to a 4-5 percent increase on average at the retail level, or less than an additional $2 a month on the average homeowner’s bill. In Orange County, the average cost of water is less than a typical cable TV bill of $30 a month. In the overall scheme of things, water is inexpensive. Water is heavily subsidized through an ad valorem property tax, and the Metropolitan Water District has a huge amount of taxing capability; a lot of its revenue comes from assessed valuation tax. These subsidies keep the cost of water artificially low. On the other hand, Disneyland, the city of Anaheim’s largest water customer, had an annual cost increase of a little over $100,000.
Alternative water supplies are necessary, but they cost money. The groundwater basin has a huge financial advantage. The water rate was just increased $149, and an acrefoot costs about $50 in energy to pump out. A little more than $200 is needed to produce an acre-foot of groundwater. If you buy that acre-foot from the Metropolitan Water District you will pay $440, and it just implemented a tiered rate structure. The only kind of water that Orange County can now buy is tier two water, which is $480 an acre-foot. Therefore, there is still a huge financial advantage in taking water from the groundwater basin.
In response to the second part of Dr. Hjeresen’s question, Ms. Grebbien said that the OCWD works primarily with the Orange County Sanitation District on source control. The OCWD’s challenge in working with the sanitation district has been to keep from using chemicals that are interesting for their discharge requirements and from a water regulatory perspective. As a result, the sanitation district has started to add to the list of chemicals that it regulates. In addition, she said the OCWD works very closely with the regional water
quality control board, actively monitoring and coordinating with industries within the basin. For example, a membrane manufacturer in Orange County was using dioxane that was detected in OCWD’s wells. The OCWD went to the sanitation district, which looked in its inventory of companies to find the “culprit” who then terminated operations and is now using a safer chemical.
Population Growth in California
Jeffrey Perl, of the Chicago Chem Consultants Corporation, questioned the ability to control the influx of some subdevelopments through real estate zoning laws.
Ms. Grebbien replied that Orange County is actually fortunate because most of the population growth is going to occur in what is called the inland empire and San Bernardino and Riverside Counties. Historically, however, the water industry has said that planning and growth issues are not its responsibility and that the industry is there to serve a demand. In all of its environmental documentation, such as the California Environmental Quality Act or the National Environmental Protection Act, it is the planning commissions and land use planning agencies must deal with growth. However, those days are gone. A bill was passed a couple of years ago in the state legislature called the Khuel Bill, which said for every 500 or more home developments, homes can be built only if there is an identified water supply to go along with the development. Prior to this bill, the Urban Water Management Planning Act required water agencies to put together a plan every five years explaining where their water will come from. The new Khuel Bill has actually been used to stop or slow down some projects in LA County. This year, another bill in the state legislature would reduce the 500-home requirement to 50 homes. Prior to this workshop, the city of Irvine and the Irvine Company were working on a small home development. The Irvine Ranch Water District put together a report that said it has sustainable water coming from the groundwater basin and the Metropolitan Water District and that there was sufficient water for this development. The OCWD does not have a report that addresses the Khuel Bill, but it is currently doing the planning work in order to be able to put it together. In the Southern California area, the antigrowth advocates are starting to use water as their weapon and the water industry is paralyzed and unprepared for this.
Effect of Chemistry on the Water Industry
Vasilios Manousiouthakis, of the University of California at Los Angeles, wanted to address the comment made about the chemical sciences and their adverse impact on the water industry and others in business. A remark was made in the morning about how there is a serious adverse impact in the chemistry and chemical engineering areas, resulting from the negative connotation of “chemicals.” It must be realized that the United States is prosperous today because there has been a very healthy chemical industry contributing to the gross national product since the 1940s. Now, the delayed adverse impact that this industry has had on our environment is being seen. If any group of people can slow this adverse impact it is chemists and chemical engineers. Mr. Manousiouthakis wanted to caution Ms. Grebbien that remarks about the chemical sciences’ impact on the water industry may have unintended consequences.
Ms. Grebbien agreed and said she understands that products made from chemicals benefit society. The general public has to realize, however, that it cannot have these things without adverse effects. If there are going to be consequences, they should be managed from a holistic approach. The water industry would like to work with the chemical sciences to tackle this issue.