Coastkeeper’s Roles in Local Water Quality Projects and Funds

Orange County Coastkeeper doesn’t just talk the talk when it comes to advocating for fishable, swimmable, drinkable waters. On both local and state levels, we bring our insight and expertise to ensure the voice of the water is represented.

One Water One Watershed 

California bond funding has traditionally been distributed on a competitive basis using the Integrated Regional Watershed Management Program, but the Santa Ana Watershed Planning Authority suggested a different system.

The Santa Ana Watershed Planning Authority is a joint powers agency established to operate the desalters along the Santa Ana River, the Santa Ana River Interceptor Line and plan for the Santa Ana Watershed. The Planning Authority proposed an idea to distribute bond funds from a holistic perspective based on knowledge of the Santa Ana watershed. With an understanding of all the challenges that the region faces in dealing with water resiliency, they created One Water One Watershed.

Coastkeeper’s President, Garry Brown, has served on the One Water One Watershed Steering Committee since its inception to help make funding recommendations to the Santa Ana Watershed Planning Authority Board of Commissioners.

For north and central Orange County, western Riverside County and southwestern San Bernardino County, the One Water One Watershed Steering Committee is comprised of City and County elected officials, industry, business and environmental representatives, plus a representative from the Regional Water Quality Control Board. The role of the committee is to vet proposed applications for funding and weigh the benefits of each project to the watershed as a whole.

Decommissioning of San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS)

Decommissioning the San Onofre Nuclear Station
"San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station 2013 photo D Ramey Logan" by WPPilot - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Commons.

Plagued by cooling system problems and the near end of their operating permit, Southern California Edison made the decision to permanently shut down the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in June 2013. 

There are many decommissioned nuclear power plants across the U.S., so Edison is required to follow the decommissioning process and model set by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Edison established a Community Engagement Panel to act as a public body to ask questions and promote dialogue on the many issues that stem from decommissioning the nuclear power plant. This panel is composed of citizen professionals from diverse but related perspectives and points of view, but has no authority to deliberate or make recommendations.

Coastkeeper’s Founder and President, Garry Brown, was invited to sit on the Community Engagement Panel and voice Coastkeeper’s opinion. Coastkeeper wants the spent fuel removed from the site as soon as possible and stored permanently in the most secure containers available. San Onofre is waterfront, freeway front and railroad front, with over 8-million people residing within a 50-mile radius – conditions not suitable for long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel. Coastkeeper is committed to working toward solutions, such as making consolidated interim storage a reality.

Potable Water Recycling

Sustainable water recycling in Orange CountyOrange County has remained an innovator in drinking water solutions for decades, even including branding the “purple pipe” to denote recycled water for irrigation. In 2004, Garry Brown, Orange County Coastkeeper’s founder and president, was asked to participate on an oversight panel established to oversee the planning, construction, operation and monitoring of the now famous Ground Water Replenishment System. This facility was the first in the world to turn sewage into 70 million gallons per day of distilled water.

Now complete, the Ground Water Replenishment System has turned into an overwhelming success. Water professionals across the world have visited the facility and in 2008, Orange County Water District was awarded the Stockholm Water Prize – the water specific equivalent to the Nobel Prize. Since then, the facility has expanded to produce 100 million gallons of water per day. 

The Ground Water Replenishment System uses an indirect potable reuse process. After going through five barriers of treatment, the water is percolated into Orange County’s underground aquifer, which acts as an environmental barrier preventing health issues from the treatment process. Later, it is pumped to the water treatment facility and introduced into the drinking water system. 

Currently, the industry is evolving to direct potable reuse – a process that will shrink the environmental barrier until treated water only needs to be stored for a few hours before going to the drinking water treatment facility. This process requires revolutionary technology that must be created correctly before California can permit the facility.

In 2014, the California State Senate created both expert and advisory panels to work collaboratively with the State Division of Drinking Water to address the necessary criteria for permitting a Direct Potable Reuse facility. Gary Brown, Coastkeeper’s founder and president, was elected to chair the advisory committee and is preparing to submit to the legislature by December 31, 2016.

Orange County Transportation Authority 

In 1992, Orange County voters approved a half-cent sales tax increase to fund Orange County Transportation Authority projects. Since polling showed the second most concerning issue to Orange County residents was beaches closing due to polluted runoff, Coastkeeper suggested a portion of the sales tax increase go toward water quality best management practices.

Coastkeeper’s proposal to the Orange County Transit Authority Board of Directors was accepted and immediately adopted by voters. For the thirty-year life of the sales tax increase, two percent of the gross revenue will fund water quality. Now, an Environmental Cleanup Allocation Committee will develop criteria for distributing funds to cities around Orange County.

Today, Garry Brown, Orange County Coastkeeper’s founder and president, has served as chairman of committee. To date, approximately $50 million has been either encumbered or distributed to Orange County cities and the County to improve water quality.