On July 18, Orange County Water District voted 6-2 to approve terms for a new, non-binding agreement with privately-owned Poseidon Water for a Huntington Beach desalination project. If the District decides to move ahead with the deal once the plant is fully permitted, the agreement would commit Orange County ratepayers to buying Poseidon’s costly desalinated water for 30-35 years, while guaranteeing a significant profit for Poseidon’s investors.
The billion-dollar desalination proposal has been widely opposed by local activists. Conservation and equity groups are concerned about its impact on water affordability, as well as its anticipated pollution of groundwater and ocean water, harm to sea life, and carbon emissions. The Term Sheet approved at tonight’s meeting estimates Orange County residents would pay an additional $3-6 per month on utility bills if the project is built. This increase will come on top of an estimated $5 per month rate hike from California WaterFix.
“Put simply, Poseidon desalination is a bad deal for Orange County ratepayers, and a threat to our beloved coastline,” said Garry Brown, president of Orange County Coastkeeper. “We had hundreds of people rallying against this corporate boondoggle Saturday, and we’ll continue to fight to ensure the concerns of local homeowners and businesses are addressed.”
In addition to concerns about cost, critics point out that Poseidon plans to use outdated industrial technology banned in 2010 for use by coastal power plants.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. Scientific studies compiled by the State Water Board indicate the screens Poseidon plans to use on the pipes would only reduce by a mere one percent the entrapment and death of millions of small fish and shellfish that form the base of the ocean food web.
“Local leaders are supposed to represent the interests of their community, but the needs of Orange County residents have been lost in this desalination planning process,” said Olga Reynolds of OC Earth Stewards. “Not only will the Poseidon project drive up water bills for hard-working ratepayers, it will also pollute our air and waters. I think we will see local opposition continue to grow, and I hope decisionmakers will listen to people’s concerns.”
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 higher water costs resulting from rising energy rates.
“At a time when California is making progress on climate justice, coastal protection, and water efficiency, Poseidon is a big step backwards,” said Marce Gutierrez-Graudiņš of Azul. “Orange County has better options to meet water needs.”
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, a permit granted to the project by the State Lands Commission last October is being challenged in court because the commission failed to consider whether the project’s water is needed, how it will be distributed, and the full range of the project’s environmental impacts. A final court decision on the Lands Commission’s permit should be forthcoming in fall 2018.