Ten More Arguments Against Turning Surf City Water Into Brine

Ten More Arguments Against Turning Surf City Water Into Brine
Brandon Ferguson

After 10 years of aggressive lobbying, Poseidon Water LLC may soon learn whether or not it can begin building its nearly $1 billion desalination facility in Huntington Beach. A yea vote at the November 13 hearing of the California Coastal Commission will grant Poseidon a coastal development permit--signaling the arrival of earth movers and tractors near the AES power plant on PCH.

In 2003, Weekly Managing Editor Nick Schou,(then a mere staff writer), wrote an article laying out 10 reasons why the plant shouldn't be built. Not much has changed in 10 years--except for the ever-increasing cost of the Poseidon adventure. Here are ten more reasons why this thing should be mothballed:

1. The sticker price keeps rising. In 2004, Poseidon pegged the cost of the plant's construction at $250 million. The company's Carlsbad project, (currently under construction), was financed for more than 3 times that amount. When Schou wrote his piece back in '03, Poseidon estimated the cost of its water at about $800 an acre-foot. Recent company estimates, put that number at $1,424, (assuming the Metropolitan Water District kicks in with a $250 per acre-foot subsidy.)

2. North Orange County is the last place that needs desalination. A vast underground aquifer stretches between Surf City and Fullerton providing the region with 70 percent of its supply. Compared to South County, which imports as much as 90 percent of its water, North OC also benefits from a world famous Groundwater Replenishment System (GWRS). Capable of churning wastewater into 70-million gallons of drinkable H20 per day, the process is both cheaper and three times less energy intensive than desal. The GWRS is currently undergoing a 30-million gallon expansion, and has room to grow.

3. Local districts aren't chomping at the bit to sign on with Poseidon--something the rest of us should pay attention to. For years, 18 OC agencies have engaged in discussions with Poseidon to sign a water purchase agreement. To date, only one agency has signed on the line--the Santa Margarita Water District (SMWD). Interestingly enough, former SMWD Director Roger Faubel is also a paid Poseidon consultant.

4. Poseidon won't create that many jobs. Though the company claims more than 2,000 workers will participate in construction of the plant, Poseidon's own environmental impact report acknowledges the facility will be staffed with a slim workforce of 25 employees.

5. Poseidon will be attached to HB's AES power plant, which uses antiquated technology known as once-through cooling, to draw in millions of gallons of water (as well as fish eggs and other marine life). Deemed environmentally harmful by the state in 2010, once- through cooling is being phased out across California. But Poseidon hopes to continue using the technology anyway. If the company is required by law to invest in environmentally-friendly subterranean intake pipes, the company could potentially pass the added expense on to ratepayers.  

6. There's good reason to suspect Poseidon won't reduce water imported from other sources such as the State Water Project. A 2005 Metropolitan Water District (MWD) agreement includes a provision specifically prohibiting desal from reducing MWD usage. In 2009, desal opponents asked the Coastal Commission to revoke Poseidon's Carlsbad permit saying Poseidon made false claims about its impact on imported water. The Commission declined to revoke the permit, but noted that Poseidon "misrepresented or omitted," relevant information on its permit application.

7. With the economy still swirling in the proverbial toilet bowl, now's not the time to saddle ratepayers with yet another increase in expenses. With Southern California Edison set to bump its energy rates, the cost of desal--as much as half of which stems from energy consumption--is likely to go up in the coming years.

8. Orange County doesn't need desal, yet. Though we stand at an environmental tipping point thanks to decades of plundering the world's natural resources, surprisingly we still have time to consider how we will manage our water supply. According to the Municipal Water District of Orange County's own urban water management plan, adequate water supplies are expected under every hydrologic scenario through 2035.

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9. Success for Poseidon will further embolden Orange County's political elite. Poseidon VP Scott Maloni sits on the board of directors of the OC Tax Payers Association, a murky non-profit chaired by political strategist Curt Pringle. The group sponsors a political action committee which spends tens of thousands of dollars to elect allies of subsidy-sucking operations such as Disneyland and the Orange County Transportation Authority.

10. Allowing politicians with strong corporate ties to green light high cost, low-output projects sets a dangerous precedent. We're not living in the '80s anymore, and we can't afford to act like we are.

The California Coastal Commission will consider Poseidon's coastal development permit on November 13 at Newport City Hall at 8 a.m. The public is welcome to attend.

Follow Brandon Ferguson on Twitter @FeralFerguson Follow OC Weekly on Twitter @ocweekly or on Facebook!


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