New Desalination Plant Comes to Catalina Island

The new plant will provide additional drinking water to Avalon.

As the historic drought continues to impact California, Southern California Edison has developed a new drinking water source for Catalina Island to potentially delay or avert 50 percent water rationing.

A second desalination plant, built in partnership with the city of Avalon and Los Angeles County, is expected to be operational on Dec. 7.

“Our community has worked hard to cut back on water use and has produced amazing results — we have reduced consumption by 40 percent, which is equivalent to a six-month water supply,” said Ron Hite, SCE district manager for Catalina Island. “With this new desalination unit, we hope to be able to get through the fall and winter until the rains come without needing deeper rationing.”

Because of extreme drought conditions, Catalina has been in 25 percent water rationing since August 2014.

Steve Bray, a lifelong Catalina resident who owns Steve’s Steakhouse and Maggie’s Blue Rose, has made changes at work and at home to reduce water use.

“We’re really relying on this new desal plant to get through this severe drought,” Bray said. “And we’re really hoping that the rain will come. But if it doesn’t come, this is going to be our security blanket right here — for the local townspeople and the visitors alike to make sure that we have enough water over here.”

SCE’s main source of water to the island is groundwater, which is supplied through pipelines, reservoirs, wells and tanks.

The first desalination plant has operated as a supplement to the groundwater sources since the 1990s. It can produce up to 200,000 gallons of water a day. The new desalination unit, which is connected to the original desalination plant, has the capacity to produce up to an additional 125,000 gallons of water a day.

The Avalon City Council voted to provide $500,000 to help fund the new desalination plant, which cost about $3 million. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, at Supervisor Don Knabe’s request, voted in June to identify potential funding sources for the new desalination plant. The supervisor’s office is continuing to explore possible funding options in partnership with the project.

SCE worked with various local and state regulatory agencies for the necessary permits.

Stages of water rationing are triggered by the water level in SCE’s Middle Ranch Reservoir. The current 25 percent rationing began in August 2014 when the reservoir level fell below 300-acre feet. The trigger level for 50 percent rationing is 200 acre-feet.

SCE asked the California Public Utilities Commission’s Division of Water and Audits on Oct. 23 for permission not to implement 50 percent water rationing, also known as Stage 3, because of the additional drinking water the new desalination plant will provide. SCE expects the division’s staff to complete its review and act on the request by the end of the week.

SCE serves about 4,000 year-round residents on the island and its 700,000 visitors each year.