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Orange County

County to Pump Less Water From Coastal Basins

Incursion of seawater is feared amid a decline in groundwater 'barrier.' Rates won't increase.

October 14, 2003|Dan Weikel | Times Staff Writer

Faced with a four-year drought, the Orange County Water District will reduce pumping water from vast underground basins along the coast to help prevent seawater from contaminating the water supply.

"Our groundwater basin is a little lower than we would like it to be," said John Kennedy, the district's assistant general manager. The groundwater basin, fed by rain and runoff from the Santa Ana River watershed, serves about half the water needs of 2.3 million people.

Under the plan, Costa Mesa, Irvine, Newport Beach and Huntington Beach will reduce their reliance on groundwater by 6.5 billion gallons next year to help strengthen the seawater barrier, district officials said Monday.

The cities now consume about 28.5 billion gallons annually. They will make up the difference by obtaining water from other sources.

The fresh groundwater along the coast acts as a shield against the advancing ocean. But if groundwater levels are lowered through overuse, seawater can rush into the basins.

Meanwhile, 10 cities that are district customers in North County will be allowed to pump more water from the basin and reduce their reliance on imported water.

Additional pumping in these inland areas will not contribute to saltwater intrusion, district officials said.

Because of agreements that balance water prices among all district customers, rate-payers will not experience an increase in their bills.

The Orange County Water District, created in 1933 by the state Legislature, manages and protects the huge groundwater basin in north, central and coastal Orange County.

In the 1970s, the district installed an underground freshwater barrier to hold back the ocean and prevent saltwater from tainting basin supplies.

During the 1950s and 1960s, the ocean water moved about three miles inland in Orange County after increased groundwater use lowered water levels in the basin. Resulting seawater contamination forced the permanent closures of several drinking water wells along the coast.

The barrier consists of 26 wells in Fountain Valley and Huntington Beach that inject purified wastewater into the ground, creating a wall that slows ocean intrusion.

The reduction in groundwater use along the coast is needed, district officials said, because of a four-year drought that has reduced the amount of water available to replenish the basin.

It is also necessary to relieve pressure on the barrier until improvements can be completed in 2007, they said.

The district plans to add eight wells that will increase the amount of purified water injected daily into the barrier from 15 million gallons a day to about 40 million gallons.

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