Locals Life

Surrounded by a Billion Gallons of Water but Not a Drop to Wash Your Cart

Written by: Mark

Well, that’s not exactly the case here on Catalina Island, but it has been.  Prior to 2016, islanders and tourists together used much more water than was available from the Edison ground water pumping and our 30+ year old desalination plant. 

Decades ago, the first developer of the Hamilton Cove Condominiums project had a City imposed condition to create the water his project would need, as Avalon was already short on water. In fact, years earlier than that the City had re-plumbed the entire town so that the toilets would flush using ocean water, as there already wasn’t enough clean (potable) water for the residents. So, we can flush all we want.

Last month I had the pleasure to tour the new desalination plant located at the Pebbly Beach Edison plant. Huge diesel engines with 16 cylinders bigger than coffee cans power the Avalon electric grid as well as the “desal” equipment.  The new desal plant is sharp!  The pre-packaged unit was built by GE in a container like those transported on ships and then trucked around.  The foil backed insulation shined inside under the overhead lights and the “desal” filters look like 8” PCV piping plumbed in a manifold. 

Both the old and the new systems make about 220,000 gallons per day. This is enough to meet our high summer tourist water demand. The old system is actually four small systems, so Edison can turn on 2 or 3 of the little systems to match production to the load. Interestingly, during the bulk of the year the new plant is not operated, because this new $2.5 million dollar plant only works at full throttle, making too much water. So, in theory, we have more than enough water to meet our needs on the island.

Apparently, making water isn’t the problem now that we have this new “desal” plant. Our problem is that we have no storage facility.  Well, not really.  We have a 10 million gallon reservoir that is three miles out of town that is covered with a big plastic tarp to eliminate evaporation.  However, it would take about $9,000,000 to engineer pump stations and the affiliated installation of piping, etc. to move the desalinated water up to the storage facility.  Edison doesn’t want to make the investment and the City fails to step up as well. 

So, we find ourselves in a situation where residents and guests are surrounded with water AND have more than enough desalination equipment to provide, yet our water usage is mandated to be rationed, even in winter months. Seems it is impossible to teach people how to conserve for four months a year when the summer load requires all production possible and then permit these conserving residents to use all they want for the other eight months.  It turns out you can turn machines on with a switch, but people have to be trained to conserve. So, there you have it: Billions of Gallons of Water, but Not a Drop to Wash Your Golf Cart.