Conservation Vs. Ocean Desalination: Dual Water Board Director is Poseidon’s Point Man

By John Earl

Shawn Dewane of Costa Mesa is the free-marketeer point man for Poseidon Resources, the water dealer that wants to combine public and private funds to build a $1 billion ocean desalination plant in Huntington Beach.

Shawn Dewane
Shawn Dewane at a OCWD Board of Directors meeting. Photo: John Earl

The project would be built under the auspices of the Orange County Water District(OCWD), which manages the county’s groundwater basin and provides 2.4 million north-county residents with 75 percent of their water.

Voters elected Dewane to the OCWD Board of Directors in 2010.

He runs Dewane Investment Strategies, an independent affiliate of the Raymond James banking firm, with his wife Tracey, from their Newport Beach office.

Dewane was recently appointed to the Board of Retirement for the Orange County Employees’ Retirement System (OCERS). OCERS contracts with Raymond James; so, to avoid a conflict of interest, legal counsel advised that Dewane should not discuss Raymond James with OCERS board members or staff.

The Mesa Water District appointed Dewane to its board of directors in 2005. As one of OCWD’s 19 member agencies, Mesa provides 110,000 residents of Costa Mesa and Newport Beach with basin water.

OCWD and Mesa Water overlap, thus a potential legal conflict exists for Dewane by serving both districts simultaneously.

In 2010, Mesa Water incorporated CalDesal, a non-profit group that lobbies for the desalination industry. Official Mesa Water minutes show that Dewane pushed hard to become CalDesal’s first Chairman of the Board, a position he still holds.

CalDesal and Mesa Water work closely with Poseidon to promote its desalination plan.

Dewane’s reelection campaign benefited from nearly $55,000 in Poseidon PAC money in 2014 when he was challenged by former Costa Mesa City Councilmember Wendy Leece:

$5,000 to Cal Homeowners Ass.

$10,000 to Taxpayers for Ethical Govt.

$24,900 to Cal Homeowners Ass.

$15,000 to Taxpayers for Ethical Govt.

Poseidon offers a “pure, plentiful and affordable water supply for our great county,” Dewane said last January on a local Facebook page.

It’s important to change the mindset from scarcity to surplus, and this project is part of that vision,” he said.

Contrary to popular belief, conservation does not come for free,” he explained. “In fact, prices have risen enough from demand reduction [from conservation] that we could have paid for this entire [Poseidon] project.”

Dewane follows John Maynard Keynes’ theoretical “paradox of thrift:” individuals make an economic recession worse by saving (conserving) more and spending less.

Dewane elaborated at an OCWD board meeting two years ago, during the drought, while discussing pumping limits and basin replenishment-assessment fees:

I think it’s just worth pointing out here that the economics of water supply and pricing are very complex. But one thing that is obvious is that conservation is not free. As consumers use less water, the fixed operating costs to this district remain the same and therefore the replenishment assessment must go up to cover the difference in lost water sales to those fixed costs. This is commonly known in economic circles as the paradox of thrift. And I don’t think it can be ignored on a county-wide basis because we push a very very large economic lever there and a new water supply is what’s required to fix this problem. Whether it comes from God or man, we need to find a way to refill the groundwater basin one way or the other so that we can continue to support the economy that is in Orange County today.”

Next: Are Dewane’s anti-conservation claims true or are they alternative facts?

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