The Doheny Desalination Plant is planned to be built in Dana Point. Photo: Matt Cortina
The Doheny Desalination Plant is planned to be built in Dana Point. Photo: Matt Cortina

By Matt Cortina

Early cost estimates for the proposed Doheny Desalination Plant in Dana Point range from $88 million to $185 million depending on size and capacity, according to discussions at a South Coast Water District meeting on Wednesday, June 22 in Laguna Beach.

Data gathered from potential contractors, financiers and architects was presented at the Board of Directors workshop, and three economic models were presented to the board for consideration. The first project would process four million gallons per day of seawater (4 MGD) and would be the cheapest option at $88 million. That plan would have built-in ways to maximize efficiency, but would still produce around 4 MGD.

The second plan, costing an estimated $102 million, would start at 5 MGD of intake, with the potential to expand up to 15 MGD. The third plan, costing an estimated $185 million, would immediately begin to take in 15 MGD.

The Board heard feedback from potential developers, funders and contractors that the groups were eager to submit bids on the project. How the plant would be paid for, though, is still to be determined. Answers from the interested building and financing parties indicated that some would be amendable to putting up the costs, or sharing some of the costs, to build the facility, which would then be recouped later when plant water is sold to consumers. Others, indicated it would be better for the water district itself to pay for the construction.

There was also a discussion about the plant’s facilities, and the economic risk associated with them. Slant wells, which would access seawater off the immediate coast, and send it through underground pipelines to the plant, are a relatively new technology. Almost all of the potential builders and associated parties said they want the water district to be responsible for the slant wells and the water quantity and quality produced by them. That is, if a slant well breaks, hauls in substandard water, or fails to bring in adequate water, many builders said the district should be responsible for making and paying for appropriate changes.

The presentation also included a discussion of the future desalination plant’s location, which would be built on a lot on the southern side of the San Juan Creek channel, and would require tunnels to be built underneath the channel to connect to the northern water line infrastructure.

As it stands, the project is still years away from completion—it still needs to undergo an environmental review process. There are plans for brine treatment and disposal off-shore (one of the major environmental issues associated with desalination).

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comments (1)

  • My NGO, CLEAN WATER NOW (CWN), has been tracking this ocean desalination for over 10+ years since its earliest conception phases.
    I personally served on the Orange County Water District’s Ocean Desalination Citizens Advisory Committee that met multiple times in the course of several months last year regarding The Poseidon Project in Huntington Beach. We then reported to the 10 member Board in early summer of 2015, and OCWD has held several follow-up workshops that I’ve attended.
    CWN had been tracking that HB Project for about the past 5-6 years.
    We’re quite knowledgeable about this topic.
    The facts as we know them about the DoHo situation, also sustained in Poseidon Project docs, is that ocean desalination only recovers about 50% of the mgd intake. ALL of the technical info that both OCWD and SCWD have circulated means that for every 10 mgd drawn, a supplier can only produce 4-5 mgd.
    HB will take in about 107 mgd, produce about 50–56 mgd.
    In the case of DoHo, I went back to the SCWD website today, plus over their own circulated materials/presentations (PDFs) from the meetings this Spring, including their OFFICIAL submissions to the State and stakeholders plus approximations for 3 Phases.
    Each Phase has a 3 slant well cluster, so Phase 1 is 3 wells, Phase 2 another 3 (total 6), Phase 3 another 3 to total 9.
    At least 1-2 are kept offline (idle) so that during any maintenance procedures of the others the extras can be brought online (active).
    Below are approximations/estimates that SCWD provided. The biggest burden are upfront costs, hence Phase 1 costs a lot more than the subsequent 2 at buildout:

    Phase 1: $88 million (initial 3 wells, drafting 8-10 mgd, producing 4.2 to 5 mgd)
    Phase 2: $138 million total investment (additional 3 wells, drafting 20 mgd total, production 10 mgd)
    Phase 3: $188 million total investment (additional 3 wells, drafting 30 mgd total, production 15 mgd.

    In other words, a PHASED implementation.
    Last, but extremely important in these long term commitments/proposals, is that what is in this particular column is NOT what has been vetted, what was offered/presented at the Draft EIR Scoping Session hosted by SCWD.
    I would encourage SCWD ratepayers and concerned/interested citizens to visit SCWD website where the Power Point presentations, where the technical sheets, circulated information and ESPECIALLY the comments made by protectionist NGOs like CWN, Surfrider Foundation et al are posted.

    OC Coastkeepers have gone on record, before TV cameras, in Op-Eds and in media interviews/articles as stating that the OC doesn’t need ocean desalination PERIOD.
    CWN believes otherwise, that it has a role in our portfolio here in South OC—-but I advise DPT readers to do their own homework, educate themselves better and reach their own conclusions.
    Water, for decades taken for granted, has due to the drought taken on ENORMOUS (and rightful) importance.

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