Santa Catalina Island, where a scarcity of fresh water has long been a major constraint on growth, may get its first permanent desalinization plant under a condominium construction plan approved last week by the Avalon City Council.
If the project demonstrates the feasibility of such plants, the way could be opened for additional development at the arid island's two main population centers, Avalon and Two Harbors, according to some observers.
But they point out that large-scale growth is still hindered by another shortage: property that can be used for residential and commercial development. Most of the island was restricted to recreational and conservation uses when the Wrigley family donated the land to the nonprofit Santa Catalina Conservancy.
The developer of a 330-unit condo project at Hamilton Cove proposed the reverse-osmosis desalinization plant as a means of meeting its commitment to provide a new source of fresh water for the second half of the development at the west end of Avalon.
Water Supply Requisite
Under a plan approved by the council in 1980, the first 165 units get their water from the Middle Ranch Reservoir, which collects rain and has long been the island's main source of fresh water.
The council's action last week gave the go-ahead to proceed with construction of the second 165 units if the developer comes up with the required water supply.
Bruce Lewis, who manages the condo project for Hamilton Cove Associates, a subsidiary of Bell Canada Enterprises Development, said 138 units--ranging in price from $240,000 to $800,000--have been constructed, and work has started on another 83. He estimated the total cost of the development at $200 million.
Lewis said his firm may ask the council to approve 94 condos at Hamilton Cove in addition to the planned 330 in order to spread the cost of the proposed water plant over a larger number of units.
Lewis said Hamilton Cove is negotiating with Southern California Edison Co., the island's supplier of water and power, on proposals for Edison to take over operation of the desalinization plant after it has been constructed by the developers.
Keith LeFever, Edison's district manager, said acquisition of the plant would give the company experience in operating desalinization systems. Edison also is interested in acquiring any surplus water from the plant that could be used in Avalon and provide a reserve in periods of drought, he said.
Lewis said the desalinization plant, which would be located at Hamilton Cove or near Edison's power plant at Pebbly Beach, will produce 102,000 gallons of water a day and could be expanded to 130,000 gallons. He declined to estimate the cost of the plant or the potential surplus from it, pending the outcome of negotiations with Edison.
Edison supplies Catalina consumers with about 300,000 gallons of fresh water daily during the winter and more than 1 million gallons during the summer tourist season, LeFever said. Avalon reduces its dependence on fresh water through widespread use of seawater for flushing toilets.