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Water availability ‘increased without new diversions'

August 18, 2001|By RUDY YNIGUEZ, Staff Writer

The city of Brawley is proposing a desalting project that could result in 1 million acre-feet of water being made available through increased reuse to the metropolitan areas of Southern California.

The Salton Sea would receive the desalting process waste stream, which would first drive an 8-megawatt power plant.

The water would potentially become available through the desalting of Colorado River water that flows to the Los Angeles and San Diego areas through the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California-owned Colorado River Aqueduct. The desalting plant would reduce river water from about 700 parts per million total dissolved solids to about 100, making it available for as many as three times for reuse through wastewater treatment due to the lower salinity level.

The idea belongs to Las Vegas-based Pentacore Engineering Inc. and is the brainchild of Michael Clinton, former general manager of the Imperial Irrigation District. The project is being promoted locally by Todd Shields, a professional engineer who wrote the project description for the city of Brawley's permit application before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.


Shields said the project is based on numerous other studies, is undergoing peer review and will be studied for feasibility.

Shields said benefits of desalting river water include a reduction in damage to plumbing systems from salt, the potential for increased reuse of water that is less salty, the production of potable water that meets government standards and elevation stabilizing effects for the Salton Sea from the waste stream in light of the pending transfer of water from IID to the San Diego County Water Authority.

"The project provides a million acre-feet of water without new diversions," Shields said.

He said the overall economic benefits are about $500 million yearly, with costs in the range of $300 million yearly, including debt service.

Treated wastewater can be used for irrigation, industry and recharging groundwater, among other uses, Shields said, adding that some municipalities would need to install wastewater treatment facilities to avail themselves of the reuse benefits.

The desalting plant would be built along the Colorado River Aqueduct about 28 miles east of Indio. Through the use of micro filtration the full flow of the aqueduct, as much as 1.4 million acre-feet yearly, would be desalinated. The 60,000 acre-feet yearly waste flow would fall 2,000 feet and drive an 8- megawatt turbine-generator. The electricity would be transmitted to IID's Mecca substation and sold on the open market.

The waste from the generator — the same 60,000 acre-feet, about 11,000 ppm salts — would flow into the Salton Sea using a wasteway owned by the Coachella Valley Water District.

The Salton Sea has about 44,000 ppm salts. IID and CVWD drains into the sea carry about 2,000-3,000 ppm. The new waste stream would add about 1 million tons of new salt yearly to the sea. About 5 million tons now are being added yearly. None is being removed.

Brawley's involvement is through Shields' contacts with City Council members, of which his mother, Jo Shields, is a member.

City Councilman John Benson said the Northend city was approached by Pentacore Engineering to sponsor the project before the federal government because projects submitted by local government are granted exclusive rights for several years, while those proposed by private individuals or businesses are not.

"They threw enough of a bone to us to make it worthwhile," Benson said, adding the benefit for Brawley would be $1 million yearly from power sales. "It's fundamentally a very intriguing deal."

Benson said the city would not spend more than about $50,000 — and maybe as little as $15,000 — for its end of the deal.

By making a deal with Brawley, Pentacore would be the engineering firm to develop the $1 billion project, Todd Shields said.

The proposal states the reduced impact from desalting water would allow MWD "to contract with the (city of Brawley) to pay the cost of building and operating the desalting facility."

Shields estimated that cost at $600 million.

Reaction to the proposal at a special Brawley City Council meeting in late July was mixed.

The proposal passed on a 3-2 vote, with council members Toni Carrillo and Steve Vásquez voting "no."

Both said the proposal was "speculative."

Carrillo said the proposal does not appear to be one that will become a reality.

Vásquez said the project was like a shot in space.

"I don't think they are going to hit anything," he said, adding he will try to derail the proposal if costs become too high.

Vásquez said he doubts the project will come to fruition because of its high cost, the proposal will bring environmental problems, the city has better things on which to spend its money and that MWD ought to build the project on its own.

"We have a lot of other things to worry about than pure speculation," he said.

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