Orange County Coastkeeper Says Desalination is Wrong Answer to Drought

Advocacy organization asks residents to say “No” to Poseidon desalination facility at May 14 Orange County Water District meeting

ORANGE COUNTY – May 4, 2015 -- Orange County Coastkeeper wants better water supply solutions for Orange County—in particular, ones that will address the drought now. On May 14, the Orange County Water District will meet to consider buying the full production capacity of Poseidon Water’s Huntington Beach facility. Coastkeeper is urging people to tell the Water District to stop negotiations with Poseidon and focus on more environmentally friendly solutions to our water supply that solve the problem now, not in a few years.

“We don’t want Orange County to repeat the mistakes made in Santa Barbara and Australia,” said Coastkeeper Executive Director Garry Brown, referring to their rush to desalination during serious times of drought that resulted in dormant plants today. “We have an opportunity to learn from their mistakes and think more strategically about water supply options that work now and are more cost effective.”

In 1991 Santa Barbara completed their desalination plant at a cost of $30 million. The plant operated for a month before being placed on permanent “standby”. Santa Barbara is now considering reopening the plant, this time at a cost to ratepayers of $300 million.

In the mid 1990s to 2012, Australia constructed six large-scale seawater desalination plants costing $10 billion to provide an alternative source of drinking water. By the time the facilities were operational, the drought had eased and cheaper alternatives made the water from the desalination plants impractical. Today, four of the six Australian plants stand idle serving as eyesores and conservation reminders - especially to taxpayers footing the bill for years to come.

As it stands the proposed Poseidon—Huntington Beach facility will damage the three E’s of Orange County: economy, energy and environment.

  • Economy: Poseidon is a $1-billion project that will raise water rates in Orange County, projecting to cost the ratepayer three to 10 times as much as the average Californian for water.
  • Energy: The Poseidon Desalination facility will use enough energy to power 30,000 homes. This will expose our water supply to energy price spikes, increasing the already high cost of desalinated water.
  • Environment: As proposed, the Poseidon Huntington Beach facility will use an outdated intake and outfall built in the 1960’s for a power plant, not desalination. This will impact marine life along 100 miles of coast and pollute our ocean at a State Park. The plant will also create 96,740 tons of additional CO2 annually, fueling climate change.

“With California in the midst of the worst drought on record, Poseidon is acting fast to capitalize on Orange County’s coast. This facility will take years to build before Orange County sees any water from it. Orange County needs solutions now that are sustainable, such as conservation,” adds Garry Brown.

Orange County Coastkeeper believes these environmentally sustainable long-term solutions are best for Orange County and should be utilized and exhausted before turning to desalination:

  • More Conservation: Over 60 percent of residential water use is outside of the home and a majority is landscaping. By using low-water and drought-tolerant landscaping techniques, Orange County will save a lot of water.
  • More Efficiency: By utilizing wastewater recycling, Orange County has been able to recharge billions of gallons of purified wastewater into its aquifers. Expansion of this process is an economically efficient and long-lasting solution.
  • Stormwater Capture: Orange County Water District infiltrates water along a six-mile section of the Santa Ana River and maintains one of the world’s most advanced managed aquifer recharge systems. Investing in more groundwater replenishment ensures water for the future.

Orange County Coastkeeper has begun a letter writing campaign where residents can voice their opinion about the Poseidon—Huntington Beach facility. To learn more about Orange County Coastkeeper’s position on desalination read this story online.