Conservation Vs. Ocean Desalination: Pro-Desal Director Pushes False Conservation Stats

By John Earl

Part 4 of a series: part 1; part 2; part 3

In a January 26 Facebook post,  Mesa Water  and Orange County Water District’s (OCWD) dual board member, Shawn Dewane, proudly announced President Donald Trump’s decision to list Poseidon Resources’ proposed Huntington Beach ocean desalination plant as a “Top 50 Nation Priority Project.”

I am proud to be an advocate for pure, plentiful and affordable water supply for our community,” he declared.

Dewane’s words were telling of the ideological anti-conservation foundation upon which the Poseidon proposal rests.

Director claims conservation is more expensive.
Mesa Water/OCWD director, Shawn Dewane, uses Facebook to argue, incorrectly, that conservation is the most expensive water source and that its costs could have already paid for the proposed Poseidon ocean desalination plant.

It is important to change the mindset from scarcity to surplus, and this project [the Poseidon desalination plant] is part of that vision,” he wrote.

Contrary to popular belief,” Dewane claimed, “conservation does not come for free and in fact, prices have risen enough because of demand reduction [during the drought] that we could have paid for this entire project.” (emphasis added)

In a later (April 19) Facebook post, Dewane elaborated on that theme, speaking of water-use restrictions imposed by the state during the recent drought, which officially ended April 6.

The truth is that the demand reduction accounted for a roughly 30% increase in the cost of ground water to the retail producers in the Orange County Water District are[a], which is passed along to the consumers. That same price increase would have paid for all of the water produced by the Poseidon project. Instead of a new water source, we simply got higher rates and no additional supply. Conservation is the most expensive source of water.” (emphasis added)

Are Dewane’s anti-conservation assertions correct? Mostly, they are not. Let’s examine them:

  • Dewane’s claim: that “we could have paid for the entire [Poseidon ocean desalination] project” with the amount of money collected from water price increases due to “demand reduction” created by state-imposed conservation measures during the drought.
    • Analysis: The estimated cost of the Poseidon project is $1 billion. In the fiscal year, 2014 – 2015, OCWD’s 19 member-agencies pumped 305,259 acre-feet (af) from the groundwater basin, according to staff reports. The following year, they pumped 281,750 af, or 23,509 af less water. OCWD’s 19 member-agencies would have to collectively pay $1,059 per af or $24,896,031 for imported water to make up for the revenue loss from the state-imposed restrictions. If those agencies were to apply that difference as a down payment for the desalination plant, they would still be $975,103,969 short. At that rate, it would take them about 40 years to pay for the plant, assuming that costs wouldn’t rise, which they would.
  • Dewane’s claim: that the replenishment assessment (RA) increase that OCWD charged its member-agencies to make up for revenue loss for conservation (the “roughly 30 percent increase”) “would have paid for all the water produced by the Poseidon project.”
    • Analysis: From 2015 to 2017, the RA rose from $322 af to $445 af, by 38 percent or $123 af. The OCWD predicts that its 2.4 million service-area residents will use 303,000 af of water for the fiscal year 2017 to 2018. For that amount of water, the $123 price increase comes to a total of about $37.3 million. The cost of a year’s worth of Poseidon desalination water (about 50,000 usable af of 56,000 af) would be (based on Poseidon’s nearly identical Carlsbad plant) about $2,500 af or $125 million.
  • Dewane’s claim: “Instead of a new water source [Poseidon’s desalination plant] we simply got higher rates and no additional supply.”
    • Analysis: The quickest way to increase water supplies in the Orange County water basin is by reducing pumping, as the OCWD chart (below) indicates. The Poseidon project would give a “new” source of water, but no more water, except a small amount (on paper only) during an extreme drought. That’s because for Poseidon to receive the $400 million subsidy it needs from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to build the desalination plant (without it, Poseidon says, the plant can’t be built), the water Poseidon produces must replace an equal amount of imported water. That replaced imported water would be sold to water agencies outside of the OCWD service area, at a lower rate than Poseidon water, courtesy of OCWD ratepayers.
  • Dewane’s claim:  that conservation is the most expensive source of water. See part 2 and part 3 of this series.
This OCWD options chart shows that lowering the basin pumping percentage (BPP) refills the basin at far less cost than ocean desalination (not shown), estimated to be from $1,900 af to $2,500 af (currently at Poseidon’s nearly identical Carlsbad desalination plant).

 

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Conservation Vs. Ocean Desalination: Poseidon’s Point Man Spins Alternative Water Facts

By John Earl
Part 3 in a series: Part 1; Part 2

The Mesa Water District and the Orange County Water District’s dual board member, Shawn Dewane, loves to spin alleged factoids comparing conservation as a water source to the billion-dollar ocean desalination plant that Poseidon Resources wants to build in Huntington Beach.

Dewane plays to his political base, hence his occasional appearance on Costa Mesa Public Square (CMPS), the Facebook page where he reigns as the (mostly) unquestioned authority on all water matters, especially Poseidon.

Facebook post by Shawn Dewane
OCWD/Mesa Water Board director Shawn Dewane posting on Facebook.

You can scroll down the CMPS page and see a series of misleading or false assertions made by Dewane related to Poseidon’s proposed project.

For example, on CMPS last April, Dewane posted that “The facts are that Conservation (sic) is the most expensive “source” of water and hurts the poor the most.”

But Dewane’s assertion is false.

Last October, the Pacific Institute, a nonpartisan think-tank that uses “science-based” research to influence “efforts in developing sustainable water policies” worldwide, issued a comprehensive report that analyzes all of California’s water management options (“Cost of Alternative Water Supply and Efficiency Options in California”).

The report concluded that using “urban water conservation and efficiency measures” is the most cost-effective way to meet future water needs and that ocean desalination is the most expensive form of water management.

The study found that, over time, many conservation-efficiency measures save money by creating a negative cost. A more efficient food-steamer, for example, saves 53,000 gallons of water and costs minus $14,000 per acre-foot per year.

By comparison, the cost of water now produced by Poseidon’s Carlsbad ocean desalination plant (nearly identical to its proposed Huntington Beach desalination plant) is plus $2,500 per acre-foot.

If OCWD’s 19 member agencies cut their basin pumping percentage (the amount of water they take from the groundwater basin vs. from more expensive imported water) from 75 percent to 65 percent to conserve water, the replenishment assessment (RA) charged by OCWD to refill the basin (with imported water) and cover fixed costs, would increase by $106 for a total of $508 per acre-foot, according to a OCWD staff report.

That’s about a fifth of what Poseidon charges now in Carlsbad.

Without the Huntington Beach Poseidon project, the RA will go up to $571 an acre foot by 2022; with Poseidon, it will go up to $830 per acre foot.

Comparing the cost of Poseidon water (at the most likely near-future rate) to the cost of the same amount of imported water that OCWD would buy within a year gives a clear-cut picture of the relative costs of conservation and ocean desalination.

The Poseidon plant would produce about 50,000 acre-feet of usable desalinated water per year. At a cost of $2,500 per acre-foot, that comes to $125 million.

The cost of untreated imported water, which the OCWD uses to refill the basin (aside from rainfall percolation), is about $746 per acre foot—or about $37 million per year for 50,000 acre-feet.

The cost of treated imported water, the water OCWD agencies would buy on their own to make up for pumping less groundwater, is $1,059 per acre-foot—or about $53 million per year for 50,000 acre-feet.

By comparing the real costs of desalinated ocean water to the costs of water conservation, it is clear that Dewane’s assertion that conservation is the most expensive source of water is false.

Next: I will look at Shawn Dewane’s claim that state-imposed water restrictions during the drought caused a water price increase that “would have paid for all of the water produced by the Poseidon project” and that “Instead of a new water source, we simply got higher rates and no additional supply.”

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