Commentary by Debbie Cook
Special to the Surf City Voice
Ocean desalination in Huntington Beach makes sense…if you don’t really think about it. But thinking about it requires understanding all the consequences of Poseidon Resources’ proposed project.
Take for example the unnamed city staffer who probably thought he was brokering a good deal for residents when he negotiated 3000 acre feet/year of Poseidon’s water for 5 percent below the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California imported rate–a savings of $150,000. The problem is that if Orange County Water District (OCWD) approves partnering with Poseidon, the Replenishment Rate (RA) for all of the water we pump from the aquifer will rise by at least $103/acre foot according to their estimates. Huntington Beach pumps on average 20,000 acre feet per year. That means that rate payers will pay an additional $2 million per year for water to save $150,000.
Thinking about it seems to be the last thing that Poseidon and the water agencies want us to do. OCWD recently reneged on their promise to convene a citizen’s committee. Their Board of Directors along with the redundant Municipal Water District of Orange County (MWDOC) meets in almost anonymity, their agendas often obscuring the real nature of discussions, thus thwarting public participation. They certainly don’t want people really thinking about it.
Huntington Beach’s Mayor Matt Harper similarly impedes anyone, including other elected officials, from thinking through ocean desalination. Within a two week period recently, Harper placed items on the agenda of the obscure West Orange County Water Board (WOCWB) and the City’s Intergovernmental Relations Committee aimed at hastening agreements that were not understood by members or staff.
At the WOCWB, he invited Poseidon’s pipeline consultant (former Huntington Beach City employee Howard Johnson) to present a pipeline lease arrangement sought by Poseidon. Information was not available prior to the meeting. The item was placed on the meeting agenda as an information item rather than an action item. California’s open meeting laws preclude action on information items, but this did not stop Harper. He attempted to garner the votes to move forward on the hiring of consultants and the writing of pipeline lease agreements. Even staff was caught off guard and not prepared to give their own presentation or answer questions. Fortunately the representatives of Westminster, Seal Beach, and Garden Grove were uncomfortable with acting so hastily and the motion failed.
Undaunted by this setback, Harper moved on to the city’s Intergovernmental Relations Committee. He invited a representative from MWDOC to present an item that their board has been pursuing for several years, to re-categorize desalinated water as a “core” service rather than a “choice” service. Few residents are familiar with this issue and even fewer are likely to have given it much thought. If MWDOC is able to move desalination from a choice service to a core service, then Huntington Beach and other North Orange County cities will be forced to subsidize south Orange County water agencies and their plans to build a desalination project to serve south Orange County. That makes about as much sense as Orange County subsidizing San Diego County’s desalination project.
The problem with those of us who have spent time thinking about the devil in Poseidon’s details, is that it turns you into a cynic seeking a semblance of rationality in the situation.
I can come up with only one rational reason for such blatant disregard for the public’s interest and the facts–money. Money turns many self proclaimed fiscal conservatives into corporate welfare campaigners.
A glance at Matt Harper’s recent campaign donors tells the story:
Poseidon Resources, $2,540; Simon Wong Engineering, $249; Geosyntec Consultants, $250; Arcadis, $250; AKM Consulting Engineers, $250; Psomas, $540; Parsons, $250; Nossaman, $189—a total of $4,518 from donors directly or indirectly involved in promoting the ocean desalination business.
Poseidon and their brethren have spent millions to keep you and your elected officials from making sense of their uneconomic and imprudent project. In effect, there will be no thinking allowed on their watch.
Debbie Cook is a former mayor of Huntington Beach and is an advocate for greater transparency in public water management.