Thursday, August 9, 2018

Mandalay Power Plant and Channel Islands Harbor

After a long series of studies and meetings, the Mandalay power plant is being removed from the Ventura County coast.   After more than 50 years of operation,  State policy now requires elimination of the plant's outdated "once though cooling" system to prevent impacts to marine life.  Energy company NRG sought to build a new plant in it's place.  The City of Oxnard and local stakeholders strongly opposed reconstruction of a new gas fired power plant, citing the impacts of air pollution on  downwind disadvantaged communities.  As the California Public Utilities Commission reviewed the application, the LA Times reported that the State was grappling with an excess of renewable solar energy. Other studies illuminated the vulnerability of the coastal site to future flooding. 

So when it seemed that the California Public Utilities Commission was not going to approve the new facility, and SCE did not renew a contract to buy the energy, the current company NRG and its subsidiary GenOn said the three facilities at the Mandalay Generating Station will cease operations by Dec. 31, 2017.

For decades the power plant pumped water from the "Edison Canal" and Channel Islands Harbor, discharging onto the beach.  Although cessation of this pumping will greatly benefit ocean waters, one potentially unintended consequence will be reduced circulation in the backwaters of the harbor.

During the heatwave in July, harbor residents noticed degraded water quality, and sounded the alarm. Meetings were held, and the City of Oxnard began testing the water and installing aeration systems to combat low dissolved oxygen.

Although cessation of the pumps may have played a role in this, water quality has been a long-standing problem in this and other harbors along the California coast.   Kiddie Beach remains impaired, and past studies concluded that lack of circulation in the harbor, harbor boating practices, and sewage contamination contribute to unhealthful bacteria levels near the mouth of the harbor.  

Mandalay Power Plant and Channel Islands Harbor
 Power plant pumps ceased in March, 2018
Poor circulation exacerbates this problem in the back channels of the harbor.   It is not surprising that recent testing identified problems in the Westport, Harbor Island, and SeaBridge areas.  In fact, Surfrider filed comments on the the SeaBridge development project when the City of Oxnard circulated an environmental document on harbor expansion.  At the time it was clear that this would create the backwater condition that has finally come to light.    

It should be noted that this is not a unique problem, and harbors throughout California frequently experience fish kills due to lowered dissolved oxygen levels.  This is usually the result of algae blooms fueled by high nutrient input combined with warm water and poor circulation.  Recent examples include Marina Del Rey (2014) and Ventura Harbor (2011).

In August 2018, Surfrider wrote a letter to the neighborhood council, and filed comments with the Regional Water Quality Control Board supporting cancellation of the Mandalay NPDES discharge permit. 

Sources of pollutants entering the harbor should be monitored and solutions developed to curtail or eliminate them.  Current water quality rules encourage improved water management practices, but until a community demands it, enforcement alone cannot force the necessary changes.  

In the meantime, the aeration systems installed by the City of Oxnard have demonstrated viability as a means to mitigate for lowered dissolved oxygen levels.  Similar to the sand-moving efforts at Oxnard Shores, this will not solve the root cause of the problem but merely help reduce the impacts of water pollution.

Surfrider commends the Channel Islands Community for uniting on this issue.  For years the poor water quality associated with the harbor has gone largely unnoticed.  The cessation of the power plant pumps may have temporarily exacerbated the problem, but the situation is not new.

We encourage the harbor residents to direct their efforts toward source control and mitigation.   Residents and boat owners can and should play a role in this process; indeed, success depends on it.

Regional Water Quality Control Board:

This item will be considered by the Regional Water Board at a public hearing, which will be held during the Board’s regularly scheduled September 13, 2018 meeting. The Board meeting will begin at 9:00 A.M. at the Ventura County Government Center Hearing Room, 800 South Victoria Avenue, Ventura, CA.

Download the Final Fact Sheet


 On June 28, 2018, Regional Water Board transmitted the tentative Order which would terminate the waste discharge requirements and NPDES permit for NRG California South LP, Mandalay Generating Station located at 393 North Harbor Boulevard in Oxnard, California.  Pursuant to Division 7 of the California Water Code, the Regional Water Board, at a public hearing held on September 13, 2018, reviewed the tentative Order, considered all factors in the case, and adopted Order No. R4-2018-0130.

The Cover Letter, Termination Order No. R4-2018-0130 are posted on the web site at:

In the news:

Jun 22, 2018 Why is the water brown at Channel Islands Harbor? 

Aug 2, 2018 Oxnard harbor water clears up as aerators debut

NRG plans to shut down Oxnard power plant earlier than expected

California invested heavily in solar power. Now there's so much that other states are sometimes paid to take it

Unseasonal heat may have triggered Marina fish kill

Thousands of dead fish scooped from Ventura Harbor


Surfrider letter to LARWCB

City of Oxnard Updates

City of Oxnard Water Testing results - arcGIS map

Channel Islands Neighborhood Council

Wishtoyo - Kiddie Beach