The West Basin Municipal Water District gave a presentation about a proposed desalination plant to the Manhattan Beach city council for the first time Tuesday Oct. 15, despite the project having been in the works since 2015.
The $400 million plant—which would border El Porto in El Segundo and convert 20 to 60 million gallons of ocean water per day to drinkable water if approved—was first brought to the table more four years ago.
But Manhattan Beach leaders at the time did not allow the water district to give a formal presentation, according to Councilmember Richard Montgomery, who apologized on behalf of the previous panel at the meeting Tuesday.
That council, headed by Mayor Mark Burton, sent a letter to West Basin opposing the project in early 2016.
“This council is not taking a position on anything yet with desal,” Montgomery said, adding the council values transparency and hearing both sides of the issue. “Once we get the final impact report and look at everything that’s there, then and only then will we take a look at it.”
Mayor Nancy Hersman said there are no agenda items yet for council to discuss the final report and that it would take two councilmembers requesting it to come back for discussion.
“I understand that there is a small window between when the final EIR comes out and an opportunity to weigh in,” Hersman said. “We may or may not take a position.”
The final environmental impact report for the project is set to be released within the next few weeks, according to Patrick Sheilds, the general manager of the water district, at which point it will be up to the board of West Basin to certify the final report.
“Every question, every letter, every issue that was raised is all included in the final EIR,” Sheilds explained, referencing the draft EIR that became public in March 2018.
The 1,000 page draft report found “less than significant” impacts to the environment and marine life if West Basin uses eco-conscious technologies in constructing the desalination plant.
But, in June 2018, Manhattan Beach sent a letter to the West Basin District contending the draft EIR did not meet state standards outlined under the California Environmental Quality Act.
The city alleged the draft failed to analyze the environmental impacts of the whole project, according to city documents, and failed to consider feasible alternatives while analyzing ineffective alternatives.
“Our staff felt they didn’t do enough to address the requirements,” Montgomery said, calling it ‘normal’ for stakeholders to find issue with draft reports. “That’s why it’s called a draft.”
Sheilds said the district is seeking to undergo the project in the most environmentally friendly and efficient way possible, citing examples of other countries which have come to rely on desalination such as Israel and Australia.
“We have taken a very methodical and step-wise approach,” he said, noting the plant will use reverse osmosis to desalinate the ocean water. “We’re looking at securing a diverse water portfolio for the future, not just water for today.”
In fact, West Basin has hosted several community meetings - including local sessions April 25, 2018 and May 12, 2018 -- to discuss the project.
The water supplier serves 17 adjacent cities and has spent more nearly 20 years exploring desalination as a drought-proof, alternative water source, according to Sheilds.
Still, detractors of desalination urged there are better alternatives, such as treating stormwater capture.
“You’re correct that sustainability is the way of the future but desal is the most energy intensive and climate impacting option we have out here,” said Kelly Clark, a staff attorney with L.A. Waterkeeper, an environmental organization that works to protect clean water.
For more information on the proposed El Segundo desalination plant, visit https://www.westbasin.org/