Newport Beach water wheel project moving forward

City staff said the $2 million water wheel would be the first of its kind on the West Coast, intercepting trash in San Diego Creek.

NEWPORT BEACH—The Newport Beach Harbor Commission got an update on the proposed water wheel project at their Jan. 8 meeting, with Newport Beach Department of Public Works Water Quality Senior Engineer John Kappeler telling commissioners city staff is hoping a consultant contract will be awarded in February.

The water wheel would be a floating stationary solar and hydro-powered trash interceptor in San Diego Creek nestled by Jamboree Road Bridge.

“The experts tell me that about 80 percent of the trash that comes into upper Newport Bay comes down San Diego Creek,” Kappeler told commissioners at the Jan. 8 meeting.

Kappeler said preliminary engineering has been completed as well as California Environmental Quality Act requirements. The next step is getting a consulting contract for design and permitting. Kappeler said they’re hoping to get that done at the first or second City Council meeting in February. The permitting is expected to take about a year, putting the start of construction in 2021.

The project is projected to cost $2 million to get up and running, which will largely be paid for with a $1.7 million grant from the Ocean Protection Council. It will then cost $25,000 to $50,000 annually for ongoing maintenance to keep the water wheel operating, which Kappeler said would be funded by Newport Beach as well as neighboring cities.

Newport Beach is modeling the project after one in Baltimore, Maryland. Baltimore has three water wheels collecting debris to prevent trash from entering the Inner Harbor. The first was installed in 2014 and named Mr. Trash Wheel, complete with googly eyes. The water wheel uses the water’s currents to push floating trash and debris into containment booms in front of the wheel. The trash moves onto a conveyor belt that leads to a dumpster barge. A backup solar panel array powers the wheel when the current is not strong enough. The trash is then towed away when the dumpster is full.

“We know that the technology’s proven itself and that gave us an idea of trying to look at installing one here,” Kappeler said.

Kappeler also hopes to bring an educational component to the water wheel project.

“We could really turn this into an education piece and make the connection if you accidentally or purposefully dropped a plastic water bottle 20 miles upstream it’s going to end up in Newport Bay,” Kappeler said.

On a similar topic of harbor debris, Hoiyin Ip, a member of the Sierra Club Angeles Chapter, also presented at the Jan. 8 Harbor Commission meeting. She promoted a proposed ban on the use and distribution of foil and latex balloons as well as the use and distribution of plastic and polystyrene foam (Styrofoam) food service ware in the city’s beaches, piers and parks. Styrofoam is already largely prohibited in Newport Beach.

Ip asked the Harbor Commission for a letter of support to add the harbor to the list of restricted areas for balloons and plastic food service ware.

Ip has also promoted the ban before the Newport Beach’s Water Quality/Coastal Tidelands Committee, which has been reviewing the city’s municipal code since Sept. 2019 to determine if the code could be modified to provide additional regulations to improve the environment and water quality.

Any potential ban would need City Council approval.

“We’re not taking any action on it tonight but I think you heard from Commissioner Kenney that there is support for where you are headed with this,” Harbor Commission Chair Paul Blank said.

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