ORANGE COUNTY, CA—Today Orange County Water District released the terms of a new agreement with Poseidon Water for a corporate desalination plant proposed for Huntington Beach. The agreement would require Orange County ratepayers to buy Poseidon’s costly desalinated water for 30-35 years, while guaranteeing a profit for Poseidon’s investors.
The proposed billion-dollar desalination plant has been widely opposed for years. Conservation and equity groups are concerned about its impact on water affordability, as well as harm the plant will cause to sea life, pollution of ocean and groundwater, and carbon emissions.
In addition to concerns about cost, critics point out that Poseidon plans to use outdated technology banned in 2010 for use by coastal power plants. Poseidon wants to use an open ocean intake pipe from the AES Huntington Beach Generating Station. The company intends to screen the pipe, but scientific studies compiled by the State Water Board indicate the 1-milimeter screens Poseidon plans to use would only reduce by one percent the entrapment and death of millions of small fish and shellfish that form the base of the ocean food web.
Seawater desalination is highly energy-intensive, requiring three times more energy than recycling. Poseidon’s proposed plant will use enough electricity to power 30,000 homes, and the new term sheet stipulates that Orange County Water District and its ratepayers will cover the cost of rising energy rates.
“The economy and environmental cost of Poseidon’s project is impossible to justify,” said Garry Brown, president of Orange County Coastkeeper. “And that is even more true following the passage of new water efficiency legislation that will help Orange County stretch existing water supplies through simple changes like more efficient appliances and California-friendly landscapes.”
The term sheet, which Orange County Water District proposes to adopt at its June 6 meeting, was negotiated behind closed doors with Poseidon. While ratepayers will pay for the plant, they are being given just three business days to review the proposed terms before the district’s meeting and vote.
Poseidon’s proposal will be considered later this year by the California Coastal Commission and Santa Ana Regional Water Board. Both agencies must approve the project before it can be built. The project also hinges on receipt of an uncertain multimillion dollar subsidy from Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. Finally, the permit granted by the State Lands Commission last October is being challenged in court because the commission failed to consider whether the water is needed, how it will be distributed, and the full range of environmental impacts. A final decision should be forthcoming in fall 2018.