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.