OC Water District Meeting Offers Even More Poseidon Desal Confusion

Last Wednesday night, the Orange County Water District (OCWD) held a meeting to discuss the water distribution options for the proposed Poseidon desalination plant. Although the goal of the meeting was to vote on one of three already-established water dispersion options, the outcome did nothing other than prove how convoluted the desalination project actually is.

After rearranging the meeting agenda several times, the OCWD board of directors decided not to vote on the water distribution options. Instead, one of the topics up for discussion was the expired privacy agreement between the OCWD and Poseidon. One representative for Poseidon stated that the reason privacy is needed is because of the financial model created in regards to the desalination project, and that having confidentiality around that model “will allow them to analyze the cost of the project accurately.”

But as Ray Hiemstra of Orange County Coastkeeper pointed out in an interview, OCWD’s General Manager, Mike Markus, stated that the OCWD and Poseidon entered into a confidentiality agreement several years ago to keep the information around the price of water private.  Others had the same thought.

“I think there is a lack of visibility in the Poseidon project, and I think having the confidentiality agreement in place just adds further murk to this project,” said Scott Smith, who wore a “No Poseidon” sticker on on his shirt as he addressed the OCWD board of directors. “I can understand if there were trade secrets involved with multi-parties involved… but because there is one single payer funding the desalination plant, which is the public, it doesn’t make sense to be hiding these details…”

After the discussion of the privacy agreement, OCWD Director of Health and Regulatory Affairs, Jason Dadakis, gave a presentation on a water quality study for the desalination project. During his presentation, however, confusion and tension began to rise between members of the board and Dadakis.  By the sixth slide, board member Shawn Dewane called out Dadakis for presenting wrong and misleading information, causing the other board members to fidget in awkwardness. But according to Hiemstra, the information provided on the slide was correct— it was Dewane who was incorrect in his statements, as he was comparing water quality using different parameters.  “The presentation was amusing,” says Heimstra, “All the board members aside from Dewane were squirming in their seats, like ‘[Dewane] is way off’.”

Despite the confusion, however, the slide show was extremely informative. What it highlighted was some of the effects Carlsbad has seen since the implementation of their desalination plant. For example, because ocean water is high in boron, even with desalination, there’s no way to filter it all out. Boron is said to cause chlorosis of leaves, or the abnormal reduction or loss of normal green coloration of leaves, and is said to affect overall plant growth. 

“After [the meeting last Wednesday] I can say that I’m happy I don’t live in Huntington Beach anymore,” says Hiemstra. “[The City] is going to have to go through special testing for their water because they don’t want to end up with a Flint, Michigan water pipe situation. They’re going to give us this water through new chemistry technology and although they’re expecting everything to be okay, I’m not comfortable with the comment made about possibly experiencing a couple of weeks of cloudy water during the testing period.”

After Dadakis’ Powerpoint presentation, the third item discussed in the meeting was the original environmental impact report for the desalination project. What the board of directors looked at specifically were the nine original options for water distribution that had been examined and narrowed down to three. But of those nine options, none of them involved putting water into the ground. So instead of voting on which water distribution option would best fit, the board of directors approved to move forward with a comprehensive study that will identify the environmental impacts of putting the desalinated water into an aquifer in the ground. According to the agreement, Poseidon will reimburse the OCWD for the cost of the study, which is said to be up to $500,000. 

What this actually does, according to Hiemstra, is make it harder for OCWD to back out of the desalination project because the agreement states that if OCWD decides to go forward with the project, Poseidon will give them $500,000 for the study. But if the OCWD decides not to build the plant, then they’re going to have to fork out $500,000 for the study—a slippery slope in favor of going forward with the desalination project.

The board of directors is expected to vote on the water distribution options at a workshop held on July 6th at the OCWD in Fountain Valley. See you there!

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