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New water deal cuts imports for Laguna Beach County Water District

For the first time in 68 years, the Laguna Beach County Water District will no longer be 100% reliant on imported water from the Colorado River and Northern California.

An agreement with the Orange County Water District ensures that more than half of Laguna’s water supply will come from groundwater in the Santa Ana River Basin, according to a news release issued Wednesday.

The Laguna district agreed to pay the Orange County Water District $3.1 million for access to the water, OCWD’s engineering and water resources director John Kennedy said. He said the $3.1 million is less than the cost of Laguna Beach County building a water treatment facility and well.

“For the past 16 years, I’ve been fighting to reestablish our local groundwater supply to ensure an additional source of water for the future,” Laguna Beach County Water District General Manager Renae Hinchey said in the release. “It’s been a long road. Mark Twain’s old adage “whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting” still holds true. Water is a precious commodity and it’s not easily given up.”

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Imported water, including delivery, costs one-third more than groundwater fees, and thus any future rate increases “will not be dictated solely by the cost of imported water,” Assistant General Manager Christopher Regan wrote in an email.

Regan characterized the district’s pursuit of groundwater as a “business decision.”

With many agencies pining for coveted groundwater supplies, Regan said in a follow-up phone interview, district officials needed to prove that 2,025 acre-feet per year was not a significant amount of water to be pulled from the basin.

“There was enough political will on both sides to resolve the issue,” Regan said of the agreement.

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Because of seawater intrusion in the 1940s, the district abandoned the last of its groundwater wells in Huntington Beach and began purchasing water from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

The Laguna Beach County Water District, which serves 25,000 customers in an 8 1/2-square-mile service area that includes downtown Laguna, Emerald Bay and a portion of Crystal Cove, will pump up to 2,025 acre-feet of groundwater each year from the basin.

In 2015, the district’s annual usage was about 3,300 acre-feet. One acre-foot of water equals 325,860 gallons, or enough water to meet the needs of an average family for two years, according to the district’s website.

Laguna Beach County board President Kelly Boyd cautioned that even with the groundwater, residents still need to cut their outdoor water use to comply with state-mandated conservation restrictions.

“This is not additional water. It’s 2,025 acre-feet of groundwater replacing 2,025 acre-feet of imported supply,” Boyd said in the release.

District officials must still work out how the groundwater will be delivered to customers in the most cost-effective way. The district hopes to start delivering groundwater to customers by this summer.


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