Inglewood Council Votes to Support Desal Plant

May 27, 2016 — The city of Inglewood comes out in favor of a controversial ocean desalination plant proposed for the shoreline in El Segundo, reports staff scientist Steven Johnson.

After a lull in the action, the heated debate over building L.A.’s first full-fledged ocean desalination plant traveled to Inglewood.

West Basin Municipal Water District, which services 17 cities in Los Angeles County, is aiming to build a $300 million plant on the shore in El Segundo. The agency’s hope is to create a minimum of 20 million gallons of drinking water daily.

Heal the Bay and other environmental groups agree that the plant will ultimately be detrimental – it costs too much, uses too much energy and literally sucks life out of the ocean. There are better, underutilized options to augment local water supplies, such as increased water recycling from the nearby Hyperion Treatment Plant. Here are our top five reasons to be wary of desalination.

Pointing out the harm such a plant could do to the ocean, the city councils of both Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach voted unanimously to oppose the project earlier this year. These votes were unfortunately, and in Heal the Bay’s opinion, incorrectly, described at the Inglewood council meeting as motivated simply by a spirit of “Not in My Backyard!”.

To counter that energy, West Basin Board members and staff asked the Inglewood City Council to voice support for the project at a May 17 council meeting.

Public testimony was strongly in favor of the plant, with residents suggesting that the new plant would lead to lower costs for water and that water-deprived parks would be nourished once again. Both of these points run contrary to past experience with desalination plants and the reality of what the proposed plant can provide, however.  The recently built Carlsbad plant’s desalinated water is more expensive than any of San Diego’s other sources of water and West Basin’s proposed 20 million gallon a day plant will only account for 10% of the water supplied o its service area.

Ultimately, the Council voted unanimously to support the project, based on the following conditions suggested by West Basin staff:

  • The cost to customers will be cost-competitive to West Basin recycled water.
  • The energy involved will be carbon neutral.
  • And the protection to the environment will surpass the most stringent environmental regulations in the world.

These are noble goals, but it remains to be seen whether they are realistic. As noted above, recent history with desalination plants suggests otherwise, but Heal the Bay will continue to track development of the plant.

In this election season, here’s a quick primer on where cities stand in the debate over desal.

Running Desalination Score

City Councils in Favor:1