What Orange County Can Learn from the Carlsbad Desalination Plant

Carlsbad_desalination_plant2.jpg
 By Bovlb (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

As community members, it’s up to us to ensure the sustainability of our ocean for future generations. If we don’t, we leave our regional economy, community and habitats vulnerable to damage fueled by corporate greed. 

With the opening of the Carlsbad Desalination plant in December 2015, there is a lot of speculation as to whether it will be worth the financial and environmental costs it brings. All of California is watching and with the Poseidon Huntington Beach plant now in the late stages of approval, many are now using Carlsbad as an example of a functioning alternative to our existing water sources. The truth is there are many differences between the water supply situation in San Diego and Orange County and much that Huntington Beach can learn from Carlsbad’s mistakes. 

As an organization that loves our community and our waters, Coastkeeper implores you to join the conversation about ocean desalination by asking the following questions.

Is the Huntington Beach desalination plant a wise investment?

No. The Huntington Beach desalination plant would be just as or more expensive than the Carlsbad plant and a bad economic choice for Orange County.

One of the biggest differences is that unlike in San Diego County, Poseidon’s proposal to Orange County attempts to hide the true cost of desalinated water. The Cost in San Diego is $2,014-$2,257 per acre foot. In Orange County, Poseidon is using public subsidies that were not available in San Diego to hide the true cost of its water and make it appear to be close to the cost of imported water.

The economics behind desalination are a big piece of Poseidon’s scam and are purposely very puzzling. Poseidon is using public subsidies, extended contracts and tricks like spinning off the pipeline construction costs to make the price of this water appear prettier. Even the watered down price is the most expensive out of all alternate water options including recycling and conservation.

Is this beachfront location the best place for a desalination plant?

No. The site for the desalination plant is in Huntington Beach next to the AES Power Plant, an area that is considered the second most vulnerable to sea level rise in California. Many studies show projected sea level rise around 15 inches or more in the next 50 years — meaning the location is likely to be under water before Poseidon’s agreement with Orange County Water District is up.

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Reverse osmosis desalination plant" by James Grellier - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons  

How much will the water distribution system for desalinated water cost Orange County residents?

The Orange County Water District is looking at different options for the distribution system that would range from $97 to $161 million. 

How does the distribution system reflect on the price of desalinated water from the Carlsbad plant?

According to the San Diego County Water Authority, the cost for Poseidon’s desalinated water from the Carlsbad plant is expected to cost $2,014 - $2,257 per acre-foot including the costs of a new pipeline. This cost is not included in Poseidon’s original price tag – a sleazy way of hiding the true cost of the water.

How does the distribution system reflect on the cost of desalinated water for Orange County?

According to the Clean Energy Capital Report produced for Orange County Water District in November 2014, the estimated cost of desalinated water is roughly $1,675 per acre-foot. The report estimated the cost to build a pipeline at $196 to this cost for a total of $1,871 under the best-case scenario. The likely cost will be much higher and Orange County taxpayers will foot the bill.

Is the Price Poseidon is charging for water fair?

No. Another tactic going unnoticed is the term of the agreement. Poseidon has now changed the term sheet from a 30-year commitment to a 50-year commitment to make the cost seem more affordable. Like any payment plan, you pay more when the payments are stretched out. With this longer payment plan we will pay more to cover the additional interest on costs to build the plant, making the investment even worse.

Does Orange County need desalinated water?

No. A recent draft report by Municipal Water District of Orange County showed that Orange County Water District’s 2015 prediction for future water need in the region was approximately 90,000 acre-feet too high.

The report showed water-use demands at 435,000 acre-feet per year, instead of the Orange County Water District’s inaccurate estimate of 525,000 acre-feet per year. This means that based on the desalination plant’s ability to produce 54,000 acre-feet of water per year, the Water District overestimated the need for water by nearly two times the total annual production of the desalination plant.

These findings prove the proposed desalination plant in Huntington Beach is unnecessary.

So what will happen to this water that we don’t need?

The Voice of San Diego recently reported that the San Diego Water Authority dumped a half billion gallons of costly drinking water into a lake near Chula Vista, including water from the Carlsbad desalination plant.

“Ratepayers will now have to shell out an additional quarter-million dollars to retreat the water so it’s again fit for human consumption,” says Ry Rivard, San Diego land and water use reporter.

Orange County Water District is proposing to put all the desalinated water into our aquifer, increasing salt levels and degrading our groundwater. The desalinated water will be pumped out again and retreated to make it drinkable— another additional, unnecessary cost.

Treating and retreating water unnecessarily is inefficient and expensive. Let’s not make the same costly mistake as San Diego, where they are throwing taxpayer money down the drain due to oversupply of water triggered by desalination.

What is a better investment to ensure Orange County’s water supply?

We can expand our wastewater-recycling program, especially in South Orange County. Fountain Valley is home to one of the largest and most state-of-the-art water-recycling facilities in the world, producing up to 100 million gallons every day. Expanding this program makes more sense than paying a billion dollars for a plant to suck in seawater when we can recycle wastewater and keep our water bills lower.

Potable reuse is an efficient use of water that takes water already in our local systems. It’s more affordable, uses much less energy and doesn’t kill marine life — in fact, it improves the water quality of our oceans by taking impurities out of the water, eliminating the need to discharge polluted waters into the ocean. Talk about a win-win.

What can I do as an Orange County resident to ensure the future of our waters?

If Orange County residents want to ensure the future of our region and our water supply, one of the best things you can do is ask questions. Asking questions, staying informed, attending city meetings and being a part of the conversation is how we can help shape the future of our beautiful community — especially when it comes to desalination. You can sign up for our mailing list on Poseidon here.

Voice your opinion, share pictures of the proposed desalination site being flooded, use #SayNOtoPoseidon on social media and share this and other information you find on why the Huntington Beach desalination plant is wrong for Orange County.


Showing 2 reactions

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  • commented 2016-04-10 07:14:43 -0700
    Apparently there is a new technology that make it much cheaper and more environmentally friendly to desalination sea water.
    Already being used in Denmark by company called Aquaporin A/S. Didn’t want to post link to their website but you can google their name. If the technology is changing, why rush it and spend money on outdated technology?
  • commented 2016-04-08 07:34:20 -0700
    From SDCWA’s own documentation, the cost of the water, inclusive of debt, is estimated to be $2368 and $2423 in fiscal years ending in June 2016 and June 2017 respectively. The Orange County project is all about hiding the truth. One such truth is that in order to maintain a high bond rating, the rating agencies will require high reserves. The amount that will need to be added to the replenishment assessment, estimated by one expert, is 50% higher than the number OCWD is telling the public.
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