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Orange County Coastkeeper Disappointed as Orange County Water District Moves Forward with Poseidon’s Unstable Desalination Proposal

Advocacy organization fears what unknown costs the Water District has agreed to with Poseidon’s proposal

ORANGE COUNTY – May 14, 2015 – Last night’s decision at the Orange County Water District to accept Poseidon’s vague desalination plant proposal has Orange County Coastkeeper disconcerted about the future of Orange County’s water. At last night’s meeting, with a split vote of seven to three, the Water District has voted to enter a 50-year contract for the proposed Huntington Beach facility.

Poseidon Water has been proposing the Huntington Beach desalination facility for the past 15 years, but was unable to find a buyer. With the California drought applying pressure to the Water District to come up with solutions, Poseidon has moved quickly to convince the Water Board that desalination is a viable option.

While Scott Maloni, vice president of Poseidon Water calls this a “step closer to securing a new, drought proof water supply that will further the County’s water independence,” Coastkeeper questions its practicality compared to other options, such as conservation. The Poseidon plant is projected to supply only eight percent of Orange County’s water. Under the Governors order to conserve 25 percent of Orange County’s water use, conservation efforts will produce three times that amount and at a much more affordable price.

“Unfortunately, some of the Orange County Water District Board members are blinded by the idea of a ‘quick fix’ for a long-term problem,” says Coastkeeper Executive Director Garry Brown, who was appointed to the Orange County water District’s Advisory Panel.

In the past month, the plan for the Poseidon facility shifted drastically to make the terms sound more acceptable to the public such as making the 30-year contract a 50-year contract. Additionally for the past fifteen years the water distribution system had been in Poseidon’s court to take care of. Now Poseidon is making the design and construction of the water distribution Orange County Water District’s problem to solve. The Orange County Water District’s Advisory Panel met several times to review Poseidon’s term sheet and after much deliberation the Orange County Water District staff recommended not to move forward, insisting that there were too many unanswered questions around the design and cost of the plant. Instead of heeding the recommendations of the panel, the Water Board turned around and had an emergency meeting with Poseidon to, once again, shift around the agreement.

“There are many hidden costs that the Water Board is ignoring that have the potential to change the whole agreement,” added Coastkeeper programs director Ray Hiemstra. “For example, if the Coastal Commission says sub surface intakes are required that will drastically increase the cost and alter everything.”

In a 2013 hearing in Newport Beach, the Coastal Commission postponed a decision on the permits for Poseidon’s proposal for its lack of a feasibility study for subsurface intakes and lack of a customers to show a clear need for the water. Now that the Orange County Water District has agreed to fund the $1-billion dollar project, Poseidon’s goal is to bring the Huntington Beach Project back to the Coastal Commission in the fall of 2015.

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.

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.

For more information on read this story on the impacts of the Poseidon-Huntington Beach desalination plant.