By John Earl
Surf City Voice
Sometimes a person wants something so badly that he or she starts to believe it’s real–or maybe it actually becomes real.
For Cathy Green, president of the Board of Directors for the Orange County Water District, that something is a $1 billion ocean desalination plant that Poseidon Resources Inc. wants to build along the southeast coast of Huntington Beach in order to sell 56,000 acre feet of desalinated water to the public agency for the next 50 years.
OCWD manages the Santa Ana River groundwater basin and operates the largest toilet-to-tap recycling system in the world, which uses the same reverse osmosis process that would be used by Poseidon but for less than half the price.
The Municipal Water District of Orange County passed the Poseidon project off to OCWD 18 months ago after it failed for years to find buyers for the desalinated water.
Poseidon would add nothing to the District’s water supplies but would replace an equal amount of much cheaper water currently imported from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
Feigns of due diligence aside, the intentions of the Poseidon-obsessed OCWD board have always been clear: there will be a desalination plant and OCWD will contract to buy all of its 56,000 acre-feet of desalinated seawater for the next two generations at about three times or more the price of imported water, regardless the cost or need.
Green, who has often helped Poseidon by-pass important project-related questions, showed up at the June 12 meeting of the California Coastal Commission, which will approve or disapprove two of several permits Poseidon needs to resolve before moving forward.
In the hope of making that happen, she had an important announcement to make.
“I am here to inform the commission that on May 14 that Orange County Water District’s Board of Directors voted to approve a term sheet (pre-contract) with Poseidon Resources to purchase the full 56,000 are feet per year capacity of the Huntington Beach desalination project,” she announced, firmly.
“When the commission was considering the desalination permit application in November of 2013, the issue of who would buy the water was unresolved. Today, this issue has been resolved,” she added.
But Coastkeeper representative Ray Hiemstra, who opposes the Poseidon project, happened to be at the meeting on another matter and was jaw-struck by Green’s announcement.
“It appears that Cathy Green is moving faster than some of the board on OCWD’s support of Poseidon,” he wrote in an email to other Poseidon opponents and the Surf City Voice.
Hiemstra was concerned because he knew that the existence of water purchase agreements was a reason for the Commission’s previous approval of Poseidon’s nearly identical Carlsbad desalination plant.
But no such deal was made with Poseidon at the May 14 OCWD meeting, as Director Harry Sidhu explained before he voted to approve the term sheet and go forward with final contract negotiations.
“It is not a hundred percent done deal today. It is just a good start in moving forward,” he advised the overflow audience there to speak during public comments.
Sidhu was technically correct but he overlooked an important point explained in the staff report. By approving the term sheet, “the District is signaling a desire to explore in much greater detail the exact terms of a final Contract with Poseidon Resources to purchase the plant water.”
The Poseidon train has left the station but Green is highballing it down the track–with the help of most of the other board members, including Shawn Dewane, Stephen Sheldon, Denis Bilodeau, Harry Sidhu, Roman Reyna, and Dina Nguyen.
But OCWD’s chief engineer, John Kennedy, thinks that Green had her facts right.
“She [Green] was just saying that the OCWD, via the approved term sheet, would buy all of the water, which is 100 percent accurate,” he explained. “We are working to see what portion of the water would be recharged into the groundwater basin by OCWD and what portion would go directly to the cities.”
If the project proceeds, he added, OCWD “would have an agreement with Poseidon to buy all of the water,” (emphasis added) along with parallel agreements with any water agencies that agreed to buy the water directly that otherwise would be injected into the groundwater basin.
But that’s a far cry from Green’s claim that the issue of who will buy the water has been resolved.
Who will buy the water was just one of several cost and water distribution issues still unresolved, as Kennedy himself pointed out in his report to the OCWD board on May 14.
That’s why he asked for and received $230,000 for a study to help determine “how much would the Water District take, if we do take the water, how are we going to get it into the ground, how much do the cities’ retail water districts want to take. And we would figure out exactly where the water’s going to go, exactly what pipelines and distribution system improvements we need.” (emphasis added)
Until now, only one Orange County water agency, Santa Margarita in South County, has committed to buy Poseidon’s water. Nor have any of the District’s 19 members, who pump groundwater from the basin for 70 percent of their supply, indicated their willingness. One member agency, the Irvine Ranch Water District, has openly opposed the project.