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Poseidon’s Desalination Plant in Orange County: Protector of all Seafarers?

Local water district delays decision on term sheet, but Huntington Beach’s saltwater conversion plant might still arrive by 2019.

ORANGE COUNTY — The final days of spring met with a bit of a victory for those opposed to Poseidon Water’s plans to build a massive desalination plant on the Huntington Beach coastline (roughly halfway between Newport Beach Harbor and Huntington Harbour). Board members with the Orange County Water District held off on making a decision on a term sheet for the planned desalination plant, meaning the public will have a little more time to chime in on Poseidon’s proposal.

The window for public input won’t be long, however, as the Water District is expected to make a decision on Poseidon’s term sheet at its July 18 meeting. Poseidon Water, according to news reports, only needs to obtain a couple more permits for its planned desalination plant. Can the final few hurdles be influenced by public sentiment, or is this brief delay just a blip in what might already be a sealed decision?

The Log has covered Poseidon Water’s plans on an intermittent basis since 2014. One of the questions raised was whether the area covered by Poseidon’s plan – mostly Huntington Beach and a few immediately surrounding communities – was truly worth the estimated $1 billion price tag.

Desalination has been marketed as THE answer to Southern California’s persistent drought cycles, yet is it truly a practical solution when the Poseidon plant in Huntington Beach would provide converted freshwater to less than 500,000 people for $1 billion. (Poseidon Water, interestingly enough, would have to absorb any construction cost increases.)

Southern California, of course, is home to nearly 14 million people in Los Angeles and Orange counties alone. Water District officials say a desalination plant in Huntington Beach could provide a supply of freshwater to the region for the next 40 to 75 years.

Perhaps other agencies or private companies can offer converted freshwater at a cheaper rate than Poseidon, but do the numbers really add up for desalination to be the sole solution to our water insecurity?

A fact sheet shared on the Water District’s website states ratepayers would pay a 20 percent premium on a base rate of freshwater from Poseidon’s plant for the first 10 years.

“Starting in the 15th year of operation and every five years thereafter, the premium amount will be reviewed and adjusted down (can go below zero) if Poseidon Water is receiving an economic return above the agreed upon amount,” the Water District’s fact sheet stated.

What the Water District is set to revisit in mid-July, meanwhile is a non-binding term sheet. Stopping or altering the course of the Huntington Beach desalination plant freight train, however, becomes all the more difficult if the term sheet gains the Water District’s support.

One of the biggest issues facing the Water District – and Poseidon Water’s desalination plans, as a whole – is pricing. The Orange County Water District would buy converted freshwater from Poseidon’s Huntington Beach plant and then shift the cost to rate paying customers. Whether such costs would be higher than what ratepayers already shell out for water imported from Northern California or elsewhere could well be a serious point of contention.

The good news is a lot can happen between now and this time next year, when contract negotiations are expected to reach a fever pitch and financing starts to take shape. Water District staff was clear in stating the term sheet board members will consider on July 18 is “not comprehensive or definitive.”

Public input, various review stages and contract negotiations will play a major role in what happens moving forward – which means the time for boaters, anglers and local residents to chime in on the future of desalination in Southern California is more imperative now than ever.

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One thought on “Poseidon’s Desalination Plant in Orange County: Protector of all Seafarers?

  • July 5, 2018 at 1:58 pm
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    I believe the desalination plant, if built will allow future in-fill development. I oppose the Project for this reason. The Project will not accomplish its stated purpose.

    Certain types of in-fill development including high density and affordable housing projects are currently permitted by state laws without discretionary approval from local governments (cities), or a local government’s discretionary authority has been severely limited by these bills. In 2017 the State enacted 20 housing related bills. The stated goal was to help meet the state’s existing housing shortage and make housing more affordable. These bills promote development of new high density and affordably prices housing projects in in-fill areas. In order to make these projects economically feasible these bills give these project a break. They are provided streamlined permitting and are not required to fully mitigate for their adverse impacts on existing infrastructure (roads, storm drains, etc.), let alone their adverse impact to the quality of life affecting the residents in affected communities. These State housing bills are another form subsidy/taxation impacting the middle class. One example being AB 2299 (enacted in 2017) which authorizes the potential construction of approximately 8 million Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) statewide, or the potential for an estimated 10,000 ADUs in the city of Newport Beach, subject only to issuance of a building permit (a non-discretionary action).

    The O.C. Water District denies the Poseidon Project will have a growth inducing impact saying the Project will only recharge and help manage the groundwater basins. The OCWD says local water agencies will address any growth inducing impacts as they take water from these groundwater basins. I believe this is wrong and that this position fails to fully inform the public of the effects of the Project. For this reason, I oppose the Project. However, if the OCWD conditions the Project to require water treated by the Project not to be used for new development, I will support the Project. Southern California’s ground water basins are underground storage reservoirs. They are in an overdraft condition. Southern Californians pumps out more groundwater than is naturally replaced and recharged by man. Drought conditions increase this in-balance decreasing the amount of water stored in these underground reservoirs. Southern California needs to be protected against drought cycles.

    For years it was widely said that without new water supplies California’s population cannot continue to grow. The State’s recent housing related bills invalidate this belief. The State legislature is committed to find ways to provide housing to meet the projected population increase in southern California.

    If approved, the water from the Project will be used for new development. Additional water conservation rules will be imposed (one example being AB 1668). I think this is the message that needs to be heard.

    David Tanner, President
    Environmental & Regulatory Specialists, Inc.
    Newport Beach, California

    Reply

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Standing Watch/Take Action

In this section you will find resources and supplemental information on what you can do to Take Action. Submit additional information or tips on this issue to editor@thelog.com

How much will converted freshwater cost the public? What responsibilities do government or public agencies, such as Orange County Water District, owe to local boaters and residents? Should such agencies treat desalination as one tool in the shed and, hence, work to keep costs and environmental effects as low as possible? Have Poseidon Water and the Water District considered as many environmental effects as possible? Can desalinated water benefit local marinas?

Below are a few people to contact to find out more about the term sheet being considered by Orange County Water District and what changes (if any) could be on tap in the future. Nothing is final yet so there is still an opportunity to share your opinions and input.

Poseidon Water

Scott Maloni, Vice President (Project Development)
smaloni@poseidonwater.com

Stan Williams, Vice President (Project Development)
swilliams@poseidonwater.com

Santa Ana Water Quality Control Board

Hope Smythe, Executive Director
Hope.Smythe@waterboards.ca.gov
951-782-4493

Orange County Water District
Twitter: @OCWDWaterNews
714-378-3200 (Main Switchboard)

Board of Directors

Dina Nguyen
dnguyen@ocwd.com

Denis Bilodeau
dbilodeau@ocwd.com

Roger Yoh
ryoh@ocwd.com

Philip Anthony
panthony@ocwd.com

Stephen Sheldon
ssheldon@ocwd.com

Cathy Green
cgreen@ocwd.com

Shawn Dewane
sdewane@ocwd.com

Vincente Sarmiento
vsarmiento@ocwd.com

James Vanderbilt
jvanderbilt@ocwd.com

Bruce Whitaker
bwhitaker@ocwd.com

 

California Coastal Commission

John Ainsworth, Executive Director
john.ainsworth@coastal.ca.gov
805-585-1500

Dayna Bochco, California Coastal Commission Chair
dayna.bochco@bochomedia.com
415-904-5202