Old Salt Lake | Virtual Museum
Report by Galen Hunter
The Redondo Steam Plant's original fresh water supply.
[ Page updated - November 21, 2018 ]
Since 1854, fresh water has been extracted from the Old Salt Lake site by corporations. Beginning with the one or two water wells near the edge
of the lake for the workers of the Pacific Salt Works Company, the second registered corporation in Los Angles County, the water was
simply considered an adjunct of the salt works. By 1875, the salt works operator advertised the fresh water pumping capacity at 10,000 gallons a day
- a hint of things to come.
In 1888, the Redondo Beach Company (land company) purchased the lake site for the easily extractable fresh water supply. Installing a state-of-the-art water works was their first order of business. In 1889, pumping water out of the ground was ongoing and essential to the development of land company's townsite, hotel, wharf and railroad plans. In 1895, forty wells surrounded the lake pumping out one-half million gallons a day, then a million, and then more.
Detail of sketch of plan to pump water out of the ground at the lake site in 1888 letter from hydrologist consultant to land company owner.
In 1899, some 5 years before Henry Huntington purchased the land company and built the Pacific Light & Power Company (PL&P) plant next to the lake, the PL&P system under William Kerckhoff, had already obtained control over the fresh water pumping station (the water supply) at the Old Salt Lake site in order to facilitate its future plans to site an electricity-generating steam power plant there.
In 1908, Huntington incorporated this water supply as the Redondo Water Company and capitalized it at $1,000,000. The water company acquired the land company, Huntington also owned. The water company continued over-pumping the native aquifers at the site to expand it's various business operations, including expanding the power plant capacity and servicing the City of Redondo Beach, in effect externalizing the cost to the environment to the future, specifically causing the sea water to intrude into the land. In 1912, the first sign of the sea water intrusion problem was when a fresh water well at or very near the power plant property, began to contain sea salt. Eventually the water company was sold to another water company, then that company was sold to another water corporation. This new water corporation has been supplying fresh water to the area since by importing it and by treating and returning used water. In the 1950's, a government program began to inject some of the treated water back into the land to create a barrier to the sea water intrusion - a problem caused by the various previous owners of the same Old Salt Lake site property.
1911 photograph of Redondo Steam Plant storeroom and freshwater pump plant, with markup added. From the Huntington Digital Library, this URL for metadata and zoom-in capability:
The meaning of this water story is fundamental. For instance, why is there a City of Redondo Beach? The answer is because of the originally easily extractable fresh water at the Old Salt Lake site. Interestingly, this history is not part of the city's published history of itself or conventional history. While remnants of the actual history are to be found, mostly elsewhere, the question of what actually happened to the native fresh water supply and salt, for that matter, the importance of these natural resources to the existence of the city itself, has suffered by lack of proper care by the local historical society and the local agency historical commission chartered to create such narratives, which is curious because the subject of fresh water is related to their corporate existence. Likewise, a type of historical footprint evidently, the electricity-generating steam power plant that has occupied the lake site for over a 100 years, its history of itself, does not acknowledge the importance of the site as a fresh water supply for its early operations and what happened to the water because of it's operations.
The power plant's days at the Old Salt Lake site are numbered. The power plant is going to be demolished, the site will be cleaned-up. To what environmental standard is the next question. For instance, will the underlying aquifers and aquitards be tested, cleaned up and restored?
Cross-sectional diagram from the 2007 West Coast Basin Water District Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for their temporary Desalination Project at the site. The illustration shows power plant "Contamination Sources" going through the lake bed clay aquitard, and through the Manhattan/Ed Segundo Aquitard and into the Silverado Aquifer. For more about the lake bed's clay bottom and more cross-sectional diagrams, see: Clay Aquitard.
In any case, another corporation with new owners will occupy the site. This time it is reasonable to think the site of the previously famous natural resources will indeed include adequate space set aside for the wetland it is. It will take years to dismantle the power plant. So, now would be a good time to briefly look at how fresh water was important to the operations of the power plant from day one. The term the power plant industry uses is "make-up water".
"The make-up water for the plant is supplied by wells on the property and is purified and preheated by
two 10,000 h.p. Cochrane vertical feed water heaters and purifiers, right and left connected."
February 24, 1912, Journal of Electricity Power and Gas, "Redondo"
Download the 3 page article, (PDF, 361 KB).
"The make-up boiler feed water is supplied by the Hermosa Beach Water Co. and is fed to the boilers
by five duplex horizontal outside center-packed pumps with compound steam ends and one 1,000-gallon
per minute four-stage steam turbine driven centrifugal pump. The pump equipment allows three pumps
to be held in reserve at all times. Feed water for the boilers is heated by means of two Cochrane
open feed-water heaters rated at 10,000 horse-power each. The steam for these heaters is supplied
from the exhaust of the station auxiliaries."
1923, Hydroelectric Power Systems of California, U. S. Geological Survey, Water Supply Paper 493, Page 683, "Redondo Steam Plant"
What is make-up water?
[Rough notes] You need steam to turn the turbine to create electricity. To get steam - you need fuel and water. You can't use sea water to boil the water because it will gum up the machinery. You have to boil fresh water. So, a fresh water supply is needed. Once you have steam, you can use sea water to condense the steam into water and then use this water to boil. However, in the process of reusing the stream, there is a loss due to evaporation and a number of other reasons. So, you need "make-up water" from the fresh water supply. Also, to start up the whole process, you have to first boil the fresh water supply and whenever the plant goes down for whatever reason, or the supply of sea water is cut off even temporarily, you need to use the make-up water. The Redondo Steam Plant for many years used the water wells on the property for make-up water. When the wells on the property began to contain sea water, the power plant owners drilled wells and extracted water a bit further from the original wells, and when they got salty, a bit further, etc. A huge amount of fresh water was extracted from the underlying aquifers for the power plant operations.
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