OC Water Officials Try to Sell Public on Poseidon’s Billion Dollar Boondoggle

At last night’s Orange County Water District (OCWD) meeting in Fountain Valley, more than 60 people gathered to show their disapproval of the proposed Huntington Beach desalination plant. Although most in attendance seemed to have already taken a stance against Poseidon, the OCWD’s technical presentation of how the water will be used, where it will go and how costly the desalination plant will be had even its few supporters’ heads spinning. 

As the OCWD demonstrated in a 22-slide powerpoint, Poseidon has created eight water desalination distribution options— the least expensive one costing $97 million. Each option requires the construction of multiple water distribution pipelines that will deliver water from the ocean to potentially as far south as San Clemente and as far north as Carson. Some options even require the development of injection wells (a device that places fluids deep underground) and desalination pump stations in conjunction with massive pipelines, costing between $305 to $325 million to build. And that’s not even including the cost of the desalination plant itself, which is estimated to be around $1 billion dollars. 

Despite the confusing technical details, a moment of clarity happened when John Kennedy, the executive director of Engineering and Water Resources, explained that the more Orange County has to pay in infrastructure costs to get the desalination project functioning properly, the more OC residents are going to have to pay in water bills. According to the charts Kennedy presented in the powerpoint, the average cost for a water bill is $50 per month, which equates to $600 a year. If the most expensive desalination project goes through, however, the average water bill will cost $56.50 per month, equating to $678 per year. But critics point out that a lot of people pay well more than 50 bucks a month for water in OC. So realistically, the price of desalinated water will become substantially more expensive per year, depending on what you already pay.

When the powerpoint ended, multiple anti-Poseidon audience members were granted three minutes to speak to the OCWD panel about their ideas regarding the desalination plant.”We need to think about all the various impacts,” said Ray Hiemstra, Coastkeeper Associate Director of Programs. “We need to think about the environmental impacts, the traffic impacts and the impacts it’s going to have on businesses,” he said. “One of the routes even runs along Harbor Blvd right through Disney Land,” he said. “Think about what that’s going to do.”

One of the next members who came up to speak was a man named Scott Smith, who brought up the location of the potential pipelines if they get built. “The desalination distribution pipeline [is planned to] cross over a major fault, which caused the second deadliest earth quake in California history,” said Smith. “The epicenter is two miles from where the pipeline is [supposed to be built],” he said.

Joe Geever, a representative from the Surfrider Foundation, confronted OCWD members with the question of why they haven’t developed an alternatives analysis, which is a suggestion he’s made before at previous meetings. After getting a small audible response from the crowd Geever finished off by saying, “I’m going to make this request one more time, and I think it’s a reasonable one,” he said. “Quit talking about the minutia and figure out the alternatives analysis. Why are we talking about pipelines for a project that you haven’t been able to successfully prove you need?” he said.

“We need to think about how this is going to impact us,” Hiemstra said, reflecting the broad public concern about what the future holds if the project prevails. “Not just now, but in the big picture.” 

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