Huntington Beach's Poseidon Mis-Adventure

When it comes to Surf City's controversial desalination project, The Orange County Register is a brine spectator

According to a Jan. 2 report by KPBS-San Diego, government officials are already bracing area residents for increased bills. "The reality is that the cheap water supplies, the state water project, the Colorado River . . . that's over," Gary Arant, general manager of the Valley Center Water District, told the public-radio station. "Make a copy of your water bill and stick it in a drawer, and pull it out in 10 years. It'll look very cheap."

But while San Diego imports as much as 90 percent of its water from outside the county, Geever says, there are plenty of opportunities for OC to wean itself off imported water locally.

"Orange County has enormous opportunities to reuse [its] groundwater resources and a laundry list of ways of resolving their water scarcity problems," he says, adding that water reclamation, storm-water capture and conservation programs should be the focus of a portfolio that could someday include desalination. "You [should] start with the most beneficial and cheapest projects. That's not the way things are going."

The proposed site
Brandon Ferguson
The proposed site

In addition to increased monthly rates, there are also concerns about the cost of the plant's construction. In Poseidon's initial proposal to Surf City, it estimated the plant would cost $270 million. That's less than one-third of the current price tag for the similarly conceived San Diego plant and a good $125 million less than the latest published numbers for the Huntington Beach project. (A similar project in Tampa went $40 million over budget and took five years longer than promised and is now delivering only half the promised water).

Almost a week after the Register article hit newsstands, the Municipal Water District of Orange County [1] communications team rolled out a press release providing new details about the increased cost of the project being discussed by the work group. A draft term agreement estimated the cost of drinking water produced by the plant to be $1,424 per acre foot—almost twice the original, 2003 estimate. "At this point in time," the release stated, "the participating agencies have made no commitments to purchase water from Poseidon."

[1] The name of the water district was incorrect in the original. Modified on Feb. 6, 2013.

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