CATALPA ISLAND, JULY 28, 2016 – At the last City Council meeting, July 19, 2016, Jeff Lawrence, Southern California Edison(SCE) Senior Project Manager, gave a update on the desalination plant #2 and water conservation. While conservation levels have been good, Stage 3 of water rationing will begin September 6.
Late last year, the California Public Utilities Commission granted SCE permission not to go into Stage 3 of water rationing when water levels reached 200 acre feet in the Middle Ranch Reservoir. But with last winter’s predicted El Nino rain storms skipping over Southern California, with Northern California getting the bulk of El Nino storms, Southern California and parts of Central California, about 43 percent of the state, are still suffering extreme drought conditions. Although Catalina’s water customers, both residential and commercial, have been doing a great job in conserving water, and most continue to conserve at about a 40 percent reduction of water usage over their 2012 baseline level, the current level of the Thompson Reservoir was 39 gallons below the level when Stage 3 is suppose to begin, which is a 161 acre feet. (That was the last reading before last week’s City Council meeting, July 19, and since a new measurement has been taken on Friday, July 22, and the level is now at 157 acre feet.)
Because of the low Thompson Reservoir water level and that the winter weather forecasts call for an El Nina this year, which is below average rainfall, SCE will be activating Stage 3 Mandatory Water Rationing Plan on Tuesday, September 6. SCE no longer feels comfortable with the 25 percent water reduction of Stage 2 rationing. SCE is deeply concerned about the water level, as there was only one other time when water was recorded this low.
Previously lowest recorded water level in the Middle Ranch Reservoir was 150 during the summer 1977, and it drew down lower in the fall, but reading were only taken during the summer and it not known what was its lowest point. Additionally, in the 1940s there was a six-year drought, but there are no records of the water level kept at that time.
Lawrence explained that SCE will be taking a slightly different approach to Stage 3. Stage 3 used to require a 50-percent reduction across the board, SCE is looking at various data points to adjust that percentage of water use reduction, including customer water types and water usage. SCE is looking at the conservative water user who prehaps cannot cut usage more, as many people who have lived on the island for many years already used water very conservatively before Stage 1 or Stage 2 even began. SCE is also looking at the higher water user where there might be some additional water savings. So, SCE wil be utilizing an allotment ceiling and floor, more stringent rationing levels for high usage customers, and will minimize the impacts to low usage customers. The ceiling and floor amounts are still being studied and will be determined. But now, Lawrence reported, the Avalon customers, excluding Hamilton Cove and the interior, Stage 3 allotment will be a 40-percent water usage reduction from their baseline use (June 2012-May 2013). Hamilton Cove and the interior customers, because they do not get the desalination water and draw down water from the Middle Ranch Reservoir, will have an allotment that will require a 50 percent reduction from their base usage. If you have a variance, you do not need to reapply for that variance, the Stage 3 reduction amount will be figured based on the approved Stage 2 variances. The adjusted allotment will be equivalent to a 40 percent or 50 percent reduction based on the variance.
In Stage 3 there are additional restrictions on the use of water. As well as all the restrictions in Stage 2 continuing, the main change is that the watering of plants/gardens will be reduced from two days a week to just one day a week, Tuesdays, and for just one hour a week, which will be between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. during daylight saving time. SCE will be mailing out letters to customers explaining Stage 3 next week and SCE will hold a public meeting, August 24.
There is good news about the desalination plants. SCE received its Division of Drinking Water (DDW) permit amendment on March 21 to operate the Desalination Plant #2 in seawater mode and has since produced nearly 8-million gallons of drinking water since April. On July 15, SCE received its permit for Brine Mode (the second desalination plant uses the brine from the first desalination plant), which is the highest mode of production, and began operating in that mode last Thursday, July 21.
As a reminder last April, SCE began a new Stage 2 fine structure: First offense – You will receive a written warning on your bill; Second offense – SCE will install a flow-restricting device on your water service line. The device will be removed after a minimum three-day period has passed and upon payment of a $200 fee; and Third offense – SCE will install a flow-restricting device on your water service line. The device will not be removed until water rationing is no longer in effect and upon payment of an additional $200 fee on top of the $200 fee charged with the second offense. Any tampering with a flow-restricting device may result in fines or discontinuation of water use at SCE’s discretion. SCE and the City of Avalon continue to work together to build more water infrastructure.
SCE continues to access and evaluate the island’s water system and possibilities, as the second desalination plant was meant to be a first phase in solving Catalina’s water problem. At the meeting City Attorney Scott Campbell mentioned that in the the fall the State of California will make $50 million in funds available for desalination, and that Avalon is talking to the state weekly and the state understands Avalon’s unique problems concerning water. Not only the fact that Avalon can not obtain water from Northern California or other sources, as the rest of Southern California can, but that Avalon’s small customer base can’t afford expensive water infrastructure. Campbell indicated that the State of California understands Avalon’s situation and he is hopeful that the island will receive some of that 50 million. There are also other grant funds available and that the City will be working to obtain other fund sources.