Michael Buhl, senior plant operator, stands in front of the first groundwater well as he speaks during a tour on Wednesday at South Coast Water District groundwater recovery facility in Dana Point. This first well is 128 feet deep and 8 inches wide and extracts up to 800 gallons of raw water per minute. SCWD board of directors last week approved a construction contract for a pipe that will connect a second well, which will be 10 feet deeper than the first one, to the district's groundwater facility. (KEVIN CHANG, Coastline Pilot / August 20, 2014)

Reduced dependence on imported water is the goal of local districts, which must continue to supply customers in a parched state.

South Coast Water District, which serves South Laguna, Dana Point, San Juan Capistrano and San Clemente, made a move toward that end last week when its board voted 5 to 0 to construct a pipeline connecting a relatively new and unused well to the district's groundwater recovery facility in Dana Point.

By using the second well, the district will be able to pull 200 additional acre-feet of water per year from the San Juan Basin, bringing its total state-permitted amount to 1,300 (about 424 million gallons), South Coast spokeswoman Linda Homscheid wrote in an email.

Under current conditions, imported water from Northern California and the Colorado River make up 75% of South Coast's supply, while groundwater and recycled water compose the remainder at 15% and 10%, respectively.

The added well will increase groundwater's contribution to 18% of the district's supply, "extend the operational life of each [well] and reduce downtime for maintenance and repairs," Homscheid said.

Unlike South Coast, the Laguna Beach County Water District is 100% reliant on imported water. Laguna Beach County covers north and central Laguna, including portions of Emerald Bay.

"We don't have a water supply in our service area," Laguna Beach County Assistant General Manager Christopher Regan said. "We're not sitting on top of a basin, so we have to pay to get the water to us."

A 1933 court ruling allows Laguna Beach County to pull up to 2,025 acre-feet of water each year from the Santa Ana Basin, but the cost of extracting the water and transporting it to customers is prohibitive, Regan said.

The Orange County Water District manages the Santa Ana Basin, which provides groundwater to 19 municipal and special water districts serving more than 2 million customers in northern and central Orange County, district spokeswoman Gina Ayala wrote in an email.

Laguna Beach County identified another possible groundwater source in Laguna Canyon, but the cost to pull and treat the water available there — 200 acre-feet — would be "enormous" for a relatively low amount of water, Regan said.

Desalination is another potential water source. South Coast is moving forward on the Doheny Ocean Desalination Project at Doheny State Beach in Dana Point by having studies performed and seeking willing partners.

"We're sitting next to the largest reservoir in the world in the Pacific Ocean," Homscheid said. "We're looking to see how it can be part of our potable water supply."

Testing has already begun at the site, but more needs to be done, and an environmental impact report needs to be prepared. South Coast officials estimate that further environmental and engineering studies would cost about $1.25 million.

Laguna Beach County's portion would be about $650,000, but the board is leery about additional spending until results of an environmental study are complete, possibly in a year, according to a district staff report.

Other uncertainties include the cost of building and maintaining the facility and how many agencies are willing to participate.

In 2005, South Coast, Laguna Beach County and Moulton Niguel water districts teamed with the cities of San Juan Capistrano and San Clemente to explore the possibility of a desalination facility in Dana Point.

In 2006, a subsurface slant well was drilled into the ocean floor at Doheny.

The 350-foot-long well is innovative technology for ocean-water intake because it draws from under the ocean floor rather than the open ocean, according to the South Coast website. This approach avoids many environmental concerns of open-water intake, such as the trapping of marine life, supporters say.

The five entities have paid $680,000 each and received a total of $2.8 million in grant money for testing from organizations including the California Department of Water Resources and the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

"I absolutely think we need to figure out a second source of water," Laguna Beach Mayor Pro Tem Bob Whalen, a Laguna Beach County district board member, said during the meeting. "But I'm concerned about putting in [$650,000] now without knowing if the project is viable. If we can pursue grant funding, great."