Despite Warnings, City Over-pumped Basin
By John Perry
When the City decided to fund and build the $43 million Ground Water Recovery Plant (GWRP), the City Council justified the enormous cost by telling the residents, “we have to diversify our water supply to add reliability so that the City will have water in case of an extreme drought or earthquake that might interrupt the flow of water from the Metropolitan Water District” (MWD).
Well, we now have an extreme drought and guess what? The GWRP is not drought proof. In fact the San Juan Basin from which the GWRP pumps its water is in danger of drying up because of over pumping by San Juan Basin Authority members.
The Northern portion of the San Juan Basin controlled by the Rancho Mission Viejo Company is going dry because of overuse. Water is now being trucked in to portions of the upper basin because the wells are not producing due to water levels which have dropped to dangerously low levels below the well intakes.
The middle and lower basins also face the same prospect. Wells around the GWRP are now pumping at or below sea level because the water level has dropped by 35 feet in the past several years. Compounding the problem is the lack of replenishment from rainfall, according to a report prepared by Wildermuth Environmental Engineering. The consulting firm is concerned about sea water intrusion into the basin that would contaminate the water in the basin, making it unusable.
The San Juan Basin Authority pumps water from the basin under a State Department of Water Resources permit that requires the Basin Authority to monitor water levels and sets conditions for use. Under the State permit, salt water intrusion must be monitored and if detected, the Agency must stop pumping until sufficient recharge or replenishment of water (from say, rainfall) occurs.
The City’s “fix” for having over-pumped the basin despite warnings about the dangerously low water level is to spend $1.8 million in 2015/2016 to purchase recycled water (toilet water) from an outside source and pump it into San Juan Creek so that it can percolate down to the underground water storage to artificially “recharge” the basin. This water would then be pumped by the GWRP, cleaned up using reverse osmosis, and placed into our water supply.
The cost to do this is unrealistically high. The City must first purchase recycled water for $900 per acre foot, dump it into the ground, then pump out and run it through the GWRP at an additional cost of $1500 per acre foot. The total cost of this water will be over $2500 per acre foot, and you the consumer will pay for it through increased water rates.
So what is the solution? Obviously, this small community cannot afford to support a redundant water system. We now purchase 50% of our annual water from the MWD which is investing heavily in surface water storage facilities to assure water availability during dry periods. At the same time, we seem to be stuck with having to pay off the bonds used to construct the GWRP that we don’t own, so we’re told that we can’t just walk away from this “White Elephant.”
The solution is to have the San Juan Basin Authority regionalize the GRWP to relieve the San Juan rate payers of having to carry the financial burden of not only paying for the bonds but having to pay millions of dollars to fix the basin so that salt water does not intrude into the basin.
The current City Council seems unwilling or unable to fix this problem. In my opinion, a new council majority needs to be elected specifically to get the job done.