Category Archives: Original Story

Water Board Blocks Study of Alternatives to $1 Billion Desal Plant – Misleads State Commission

By John Earl

(Minor editing was conducted on this story Feb. 17 for clarity)

Representatives of the Orange County Water District gave false information at a public hearing of the California State Lands Commission to push a proposed $1 billion ocean desalination plant closer to final approval.

The OCWD manages the Santa Ana River Basin and provides north Orange County with 75 percent of its water.

The developer, Poseidon Resources, wants to build the desal plant on state-owned coastal land in southeast Huntington Beach. The plant would produce about 56,000 acre-feet of drinking water from local seawater per year under a 30 to 50-year take-or-pay contract with the OCWD.

The hearing was held in Huntington Beach last October 19. The SLC approved a supplemental Environmental Impact Report for the project and extended Poseidon’s 2010 lease with minor changes until 2025.

OCWD Board of Directors  Dina Nguyen, Cathy Green, Shawn Dewane, Steven Sheldon, with president Denis Bilodeau speaking on their behalf, claimed that the board studied the project alternatives and that there is a demonstrated need for the project.

“I guess what I’m looking for,” Commissioner Betty Yee asked, skeptically, “is have you fully considered all these [alternatives] before really looking at the water to be produced by the site, which is obviously going to be the most expensive?”

“Uh, yes. We certainly have,” Bilodeau assured. “Really, the only opportunity we have besides Poseidon is the expansion of the Groundwater Replenishment System [the District’s sewage recycling plant],” he claimed.

Yee pressed harder.

What’s missing, she said, “is the analysis of these alternative water sources as compared to what would be produced by the Poseidon facility.”

Then, Yee got to the heart of the matter:

“And it’s a little hard to figure out whether the Poseidon water that would be produced is really more – I’ll use the word arbitrary – with respect to a desire to replace imported water as compared to really being integral to meeting the overall water needs.”

Bilodeau: “Well, again, we have looked at all of the” –

Yee: “Or discretionary.”

Bilodeau: “Yeah. I mean, we are obviously looking at all of our alternatives.”

OCWD President, Denis Bilodeau, at State Lands Commission hearing on Poseidon.

But the OCWD Board of Directors has all but officially backed the project since 2013, working intimately and secretly with Poseidon to see it through every stage of the permitting process.

In fact, so far, the OCWD board has precluded its staff from reporting back about project alternatives, instead glibly promising to study them after all but signing a final contract with Poseidon.

Meanwhile, the Municipal Water District sent a letter to the commission stating that an in-depth reliability study it conducted for all of Orange County found no special need for the project compared to many alternatives.

Even if a need for Poseidon’s water could be demonstrated, it would not add a drop to OCWD’s water supply.

That’s because, under terms imposed on a required $400 million government subsidy, Poseidon’s water would offset an equal amount of imported water (that OCWD buys to replenish water pumped from the basin) and the much cheaper imported water will go to residents located outside of the OCWD service area, courtesy of OCWD ratepayers.

From a ratepayer’s perspective, paying three times as much (estimated cost of Poseidon water compared to imported water) for water that you won’t get is absurd. But OCWD directors who support the project say that the ocean is an endless supply of fresh drinking water that provides security against vanishing imported water supplies; so the Poseidon project is worth it, even if it costs a lot more and will kill massive quantities of marine life.

The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires consideration of project alternatives, including no project at all. If there is no need for Poseidon, or if alternative approaches preclude that need,  denying the project serves the public’s best interests.

The SLC violated CEQA by approving an Environmental Impact Report that didn’t consider those alternatives, according to plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed in November to challenge the commission’s decision.

Denis Bilodeau declined to respond for the record.

Next Tuesday (Feb. 20): how members of the OCWD Board of Directors broke promises to study alternatives to the proposed Poseidon ocean desalination project.  Next Monday (Feb. 26): Secret meetings 

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Poseidon and OCWD: Manufacturing Consent at State Lands Commission Hearing

Former Huntington Beach mayor Debbie Cook, who often contributes to the Surf City Voice, made the following remarks to the California State Lands Commission Oct. 19 about the proposed Poseidon Resources ocean desalination plant. She was preceded by Joe Geever of Residents for Responsible Desalination.

By Debbie Cook

My name is Debbie Cook.  In 2003, when I was serving on the Huntington Beach City Council, I was asked to represent the League of California Cities on the California Desalination Task Force. By the time I left the council in 2008, I was well versed in desalination and Poseidon Resources in particular.  Since 2008 I have tirelessly pursued Poseidon’s activities as they lobbied their way around the state trying to find a buyer for their water Continue reading Poseidon and OCWD: Manufacturing Consent at State Lands Commission Hearing

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Environmental Group Lends Support to Opponents of Surf City Desalination Scam

By John Earl

As supporters and opponents of the proposed $1 billion (publicly subsidized) Huntington Beach ocean desalination plant rev-up for a  key hearing before the State Lands Commission, an environmental protection alliance led by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has weighed in.

The California Coastkeeper Alliance,  part of the Waterkeeper Alliance (an international network of water protection advocates led by Kennedy) which opposes the aggressive push for ocean desalination in California, has joined 21 other environmental organizations in a letter (Final Desal Principles in OPPOSITION of Poseidon-HB) sent to the Commission in opposition to the project.

World-renowned fighter for environmental justice, Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Kennedy, who Time magazine called “Hero of the Year” for taking the lead in helping to clean up the Hudson River, brings heavy-duty credentials to the long list of environmental organizations opposed to the Poseidon project.

Twenty-two environmental organizations representing “hundreds of thousands of members” have signed a letter to the State Lands Commission to oppose the proposed Poseidon Resources ocean desalination plant in Huntington Beach, California.

By contrast, only one celebrity environmentalist, former U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, has endorsed the project, but she is a Poseidon-paid “consultant.”

The letter,  dated July 26 and signed by the 22 environmental protection organizations representing “hundreds of thousands of members,” says that the project would:

  1. Impose significant and unnecessary costs on Orange County water districts and ratepayers;
  2. Set back California’s efforts to advance climate-smart water policy;
  3. Fail to alleviate reliance upon, or impacts to, freshwater ecosystems, including the Bay-Delta; and
  4. Fail to comply with California law and regulations that govern seawater desalination facilities.

The project developer, Poseidon Resources, seeks approval for its Environmental Impact Report and the ability to continue to lease state land for its project, which would convert 100 million gallons of ocean water into 50 million gallons of drinking water each day.

Poseidon says that the project will protect against drought, is environmentally sensitive, and will cost the taxpayers nothing.

In reality, the project will cost the ratepayers of the Orange County Water District, which would receive the desalinated (purified) water (only to put most of it into the underground river basin to be purified yet again) hundreds of millions of dollars up front for startup costs.

Then, for the next 30 to 50 years, OCWD ratepayers would be required by contract (as now proposed) to buy the Poseidon water at rates 3 to 4 times higher than the imported water that OCWD imports now to help keep up its underground water supply.

The State Lands Commission hearing starts at 8 a.m. this Thursday (Oct 19) in the Huntington Beach City Council chambers.

Below is a complete list of environmental organizations that signed the letter:

California Coastkeeper Alliance
Orange County Coastkeeper
Residents for Responsible Desalination
California Coastal Protection Network
Surfrider Foundation
NRDC Natural Resources Defense Council
Heal the Bay
Sierra Club of California
Desal Response Group
Southern California Watershed Alliance
Environmental Water Caucus
Wholly H20
Environment California
Oakview Comunidad
Azul
Food & Water Watch
OC Earth Stewards
Orange County Environmental Justice
Santa Barbara Channelkeeper
Emerald Necklace
Amigos de los Rios
EJCW Water Justice for All

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Fake News: OC Register Blows Poseidon’s (Horn) Before State Hearing

By John Earl

UPDATE (Oct. 17):  OC Register reporter Greg Mellen has produced a copy of the letter from U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein to the California State Lands Commission (SLC) about the proposed Poseidon Resources ocean desalination plant in Huntington Beach.

Originally, when asked by Debbie Cook (see story below) for a copy of the letter (the basis for his story saying that Feinstein supported the project), Mellen produced a Poseidon press release containing quoted excerpts of the letter but not the letter itself.

After I published my story (below), Mellon sent Poseidon opponent Joe Geever a copy by email of Feinstein’s letter (Mellon never responded to my request for a copy).

That letter to SLC chairman (Lt. Gov) Gavin Newsom is dated Sept 28 (not reported by Mellen), two weeks before Mellen’s story appeared in the Register.  Based on how the events unfolded and the fact that Mellen’s story-quotes match excerpts used in the Poseidon press release, it’s reasonably clear that Mellen either did not read the letter he was reporting on or simply played off the Poseidon press release.

In any case, as Feinstein states in her letter (Letter – Senator Feinstein Support 2017.09.28 FINAL),  that her support for the Poseidon project is conditional, a fact not reported by Mellen probably because he didn’t read the letter.

Feinstein wrote:

“While the water supply and other benefits of this project are clear, my support is conditioned upon its development in an environmentally safe manner that is consistent with the California Water Code Section 13142.5 (b) and State Water Resources Control Board’s Desalination Amendment to the Water Quality Control Plan for the Ocean Waters of California. As outlined in the amendment, the proposed plant must ‘use the best available, site, design, technology, and mitigation measures feasible to minimize intake and mortality of all forms of the marine life.’ ”

Feinstein’s letter states her opinion that the Poseidon project meets those standards, but project opponents hotly dispute that claim, an all-important fact (left unsaid by Mellon) that will play out at the SLC hearing on the Poseidon project this Thursday (Oct. 19).

Feinstein’s letter has its own factual problems, also unmentioned in Mellen’s story.

For example, Feinstein’s letter states that the Poseidon project, which would make 50 million gallons (mgd) of drinking water per day, would be “expanding upon” the Orange County Water District’s Groundwater Replenish System, “and reducing demand on climate-dependent imported water.”

But the GWRS, which already produces 100 mgd of drinking water — at less than half the cost of what Poseidon’s water  — is already set to expand by another 30 mgd in the near future. Also,  it is a long-established fact (ignored by project proponents) that the Poseidon project will not result in decreased water imports from northern California.

Feinstein also states that the Poseidon project water would “meet a documented demand within Orange County,”  but in a letter (MWDOC letter 9-14-17) to the SLC, Robert Hunter, general manager for the Municipal Water District of Orange County, referring to the district’s Urban Water Management Plan (UWMP) and its recent water Reliability Study, concluded that:

“Some projects make greater and more cost-effective contributions to reliability – paramount among these in our estimation is the California WaterFix. Thus, the Poseidon project is only one of several different projects that can provide that [water] supply, but neither the UWMP nor the Reliability Study state that the Poseidon project is specifically necessary to meet Orange County’s future water supply needs.”

By John Earl

I have written enough about the OC Register’s shilling for the proposed Poseidon Resources billion-dollar ocean desalination scam (stories that promote Poseidon push-polls) that I am not surprised by its latest PR blow-job written by reporter Greg Mellen.

Mellen’s story,  “Sen. Dianne Feinstein lends support to Huntington Beach desalination project,” published online Oct. 12,  is timed by Poseidon for release just before the company’s land lease will be considered by the State Lands Commission on Oct. 19 in the Huntington Beach City Council Chambers.

Mellen quotes a purported letter of support for the project written by Feinstein, but there’s just one problem: unknown to Mellen’s readers, nobody, including Mellen, can give a copy of the entire letter–only  selective quotes from it are given, and apparently (based on a web search) only by the OC Register and the OC Breeze, a public-relations website.

At press time, the letter doesn’t appear on Poseidon’s website, nor is it on Sen. Feinstein’s website, which lists her recent press releases. Poseidon Resources did not respond when I asked for a full copy of the letter.

Mellen did not respond to my email asking if he had read the entire alleged letter and if he could send me a copy. However, he did respond to Debbie Cook, former Huntington Beach mayor and a leading opponent of the Poseidon project, not with the letter but with a Poseidon press release sent by Poseidon to the Register. It also selectively quotes the alleged Feinstein letter but doesn’t show an actual copy of it, yet it is the source of the Register’s story.

Unless Mellen read the real Feinstein letter (there is no mention that he contacted the senator), he failed to verify the main source of his breaking story.

Because Mellen failed to do his job, readers really don’t know if the Feinstein letter exists (as of press time there is no solid evidence that it does) or, if it does exist, if it has been quoted in context by Poseidon and the Register.

 

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The Ideological War Behind Poseidon’s Proposed Desalination Plant

By John Earl

Underlying the long-running battles between proponents and opponents of the proposed Poseidon Resources ocean desalination plant is an ideological war between two roughly defined factions: conservationists and free-marketeers.

The Orange County Water District (OCWD), which manages the Santa Ana River and the Orange County Groundwater Basin (a collection of aquifers containing 60 million acre-feet of water), is ground-zero in that war.

(The OCWD supplies 75 percent of the drinking water for 2.4 million residents of north Orange County) Continue reading The Ideological War Behind Poseidon’s Proposed Desalination Plant

Breaking: HB City Councilmember Will Replace Hoskinson Tonight

By John Earl

Huntington Beach Council-member Erik Peterson confirmed to the Surf City Voice by email this morning that Michael Hoskinson, his representative on the Planning Commission for the past two years, has resigned and will be replaced at tonight’s city council meeting.

Rumors of Hoskinson’s resignation have circulated since December 13 when he announced that he would not attend a Planning Commission meeting scheduled that night.

But Hoskinson told the Voice by Facebook Messenger that he did not resign. Continue reading Breaking: HB City Councilmember Will Replace Hoskinson Tonight

Poseidon Jokes and Mesa Water Laughs Over Proposed Tax Increase for ‘Privately Funded’ Desal Project

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

Orange County taxpayers may have to pay a lot more for a $1 billion Huntington Beach ocean desalination plant if the Mesa Water District gets its way.

For the past decade the developer, Poseidon Resources, has promised taxpayers they won’t have to pay a cent for construction of the desal plant, which would create about 56,000 acre-feet of pricey drinking water every year, if approved.

The tax truth came out unexpectedly at a special Mesa Water board meeting held June 27 to promote the Poseidon project’s supposed benefits.

About 100 Mesa area residents were in the audience.

Invited speaker Robert Sulnick made Poseidon’s case during a 20-minute presentation.

Opponents of the desal plant were not invited to speak.

Sulknick was introduced as an environmental attorney and the executive director of OC WISE–with no mention (until questioned by this reporter after his presentation) that the group is a Poseidon front of developers and that he is one of Poseidon’s paid consultants. Continue reading Poseidon Jokes and Mesa Water Laughs Over Proposed Tax Increase for ‘Privately Funded’ Desal Project

Agenda Alert: Recipients of Lush Shooting Gallery Contributions Push Water District Lease

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

There are several substantial items on the Orange County Water District agenda tonight which deserve full attention but, in the usual fashion of the the board, will be on the consent calendar which is designed as a rubber-stamp mechanism to avoid full public discussion.

The first is item #6 on the consent calendar, a recommendation from OCWD staff on what the format for further discussion of the proposed Poseidon Resources ocean desalination plant will be for a board meeting on Jan. 12, 2015.

This is despite that fact that at a recent joint meeting of OCWD’s producers and the OCWD board many important questions about project costs, better alternatives to be pursued first, and the legality of charging water agencies for much higher cost desalinated water that don’t want, were raised, along with a strong request for more time to study a financial analysis by a Poseidon preferred consultant that was supposed to answer those issues but did not—a request that was denied. Also, Poseidon project critics with long standing expertise or local standing are to be denied, as usual, an equal place in the discussion.

Item #15 is a recommendation by staff to approve a revised board policy manual that arbitrarily deletes the Executive Committee from the list of standing committees subject to the Brown Act, but, per a recent discussion at the committee level, allows it to exist and to operate as it always has, in likely violation of the Brown Act (California’s open meetings law), by assuming that the board’s president, Shawn Dewane, who presides over the that committee, and its other 3 to 4 members, understand the Brown Act well enough to distinguish between casual conversations amongst OCWD’s directors and its staff and holding illegal meetings, an assumption that past reporting by the Surf City Voice proves unwarranted.

But the most interesting of all, for tonight anyway, is item #18, a recommendation by the Property Management Committee to “Direct staff to enter into negotiations with Elaine Raahauge and to return to Board with information for Closed Session discussion.”

The quick take is that the Raahauge family, currently doing business as Mike Raahauge’s Shooting Enterprises, has leased almost 800 acres down to currently 135 acres of OCWD owned land in the Prado Dam Basin in Riverside County since 1971 to operate a shooting range that includes trap and skeet shooting, pheasant hunting, dog kennels, dog training, a clubhouse, and restaurant facilities, according to OCWD records. The Raahauges’ lease with OCWD is up in a year and they want to renew it, but for 20 years instead of the usual five.

The Raahauges are also facing a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) renewal for the land with the County of Riverside, which will require expensive building upgrades to meet current safety codes.

There is also a request, informal at this point, from the county that the family provide a letter from the OCWD stating that it has permission to use the District’s access road to the leased land, which sits on land owned by the Army Corps of Engineers.

The Corps granted an easement to the District but it doesn’t mention the shooting gallery, a “minor technicality”, according to Raahauge consultant Larry Buxton, who worked for OCWD and the Raahauge business when the original deal was struck 43 years ago.

Punting especially hard for the shooting gallery at a recent OCWD Property Management Committee meeting were committee chairman Stephen Sheldon and fellow committee member Denis Bilodeau, who, along with staff, put much effort and thought into directing staff to go full speed ahead negotiating the deal to the Raahauges’ specifications, with minor modifications, despite the minor technicality.

But, with the cooperation of committee members Harry Sidhu and alternate Cathy Green, Sheldon and Bilodeau also ran right over a strong request, relayed by staff, from absent member Jan Flory to open the lease up for Requests for Proposals (RFPs).

Flory also requested a complete history, to be made public, of the business relationship between OCWD and the Raahauge family, going all the way back when.

Oddly, Sheldon quickly asked to clarify if that history was to include the original owner, Linc Raahauge’s, grandson, Patrick.

The answer from staff seemed to be no.

That issue having been clarified, Bilodeau waxed on about how wonderful the Raahauge business has been for the OCWD and how and RFP would be a “disaster” and the District should continue the business relationship.

“This is a very unique operation,” Bilodeau said. “You’re dealing with firearms and obviously we want highly qualified people there that would operate this kind of an operation. The Raahauge family has, I consider, a stellar track record in terms of the safety of their patrons and indemnifying the District. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t feel comfortable with anybody else being there.”

What Bilodeau didn’t mention, and what Sheldon had earlier side stepped by the committee, was that Patrick Raahauge, Linc’s grandson and a twice convicted felon, had been arrested at the shooting range in August 2013 “on suspicion of possessing firearms and ammunition at the family range,” according to a report in the Orange County Register. He had been working at the range, in violation of the terms of his probation, according to the Department of Justice.

Another important fact left out of the discussion is that the Raahauge family and some of its employees have given thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to Bilodeau ($2,000), Sheldon ($3,500) and OCWD board president Shawn Dewane, who as president presides over all committees ($4,000).

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Caring for My 94-Year-Old Father as the Surf City Voice Resumes

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

Note: My father will turn 94 on July 7.

May 16, 2013, was the last time that I published a self-written article for my investigative water-news blog, the Surf City Voice. As I prepare to reboot the Voice, I would first like to explain what happened, not just to excuse any absence, but also because many of you can relate to my story.

Five years ago my then 88-year-old father started to suffer from extreme back pain and was diagnosed with kidney failure, congestive heart failure and the slow onset of dementia. His health had always seemed as solid as the Rock of Gibraltar, but now it was frighteningly obvious that he was entering the final phases of his life, something that I had always almost thought would never happen.

My father's B-29 after a crash landing shortly after take off.
My father’s B-29 after a crash landing shortly after take off.

Prior to that day, my father took daily two-mile-long walks around our beach-side neighborhood, an activity that he took pride in as a symbol of his good health and exceptional longevity. Wearing his signature outfit—a straw hat and off-white coat—he would walk in short but brisk steps without a cane. And he always brought his snacks: a slice of whole-wheat bread held in his hand and several carefully cut cubes of Hershey’s milk-chocolate bar stuffed into his coat pocket.

Easy to recognize and always eager to talk to anyone, my father made lots of friends along his exercise route, some of whom regularly stopped by our house over the years to check up on him and to drop off cookies or baked bread. Continue reading Caring for My 94-Year-Old Father as the Surf City Voice Resumes

Book Review: ‘Slow Democracy’ Means Real Citizen Participation and Better Results

By Debbie Cook
Special to the Surf City Voice

Whether you are an aging activist, annoyed elected official, or aggrieved citizen, the recently published Slow Democracy is the elixir for returning citizens to their rightful role in self governance.

Our country was founded on participatory democracy.  It has largely devolved into a faux democracy where we elect others to “represent” us.  And when they don’t, we scream, march, blog, and organize in order to be heard.  Such blunt instruments may produce short term results but they also leave permanent scars that divide our communities.

Slow Democracy challenges us to implement real democracy at the local level through a prescription of deliberation.

The deliberation as defined by Authors Susan Clark and Woden Teachout is long, careful and inclusive.  Creative forums for communication and understanding are the foundation for better decisions.

The book beautifully demonstrates the sharp contrast between our fast food democracy with its mandatory “public” hearings, reliance on “experts,” and top down mandates, versus a deliberative process that allows all parties to be heard, encourages investigation, and empowers diverse groups of citizens to move forward on difficult issues like water, education, and planning.

Authors Clark and Teachout hail from Vermont.  My first thought was, sure, I can see it in small town Vermont, but not megalopolis California.  But their examples of deliberative processes stretch from coast to coast.

In Felton, California residents fighting dramatic water rate increases wanted to buy back their privatized water system.  They mobilized to pass a bond measure and, under threat of eminent domain, were able to regain control.  Along with lower water rates and increased transparency, they built a solar installation and preserved 250 acres of watershed.  Citizen participation added tremendous value to the results.

In Gloucester, Massachusetts, residents, armed with the success of the Felton experience, were determined to buy back their town’s drinking water from the private corporation that had let its quality deteriorate until it was no longer drinkable.

A diverse group of residents mobilized and wrote a mission statement:  “to accurately inform the public, to share in the civil discourse, and to participate in the decision making process.”

They conducted community meetings, targeted residents in every way possible, and empowered the local citizenry.  The city council unanimously approved a resolution declaring “local control of their water as a democratic right.”

Their deliberative approach guaranteed the community members a place in the decision making process.

The most satisfying experiences I have had in local government, as both an activist and an elected official, have been those rare deliberative processes that somehow snuck into our traditional “Roberts Rules” top down governance structures.  Where members of the public, along with city staff and elected officials, take the time to deliberate over an issue, the results can be magical.

By contrast, wounds become septic at public hearings where millions of dollars have been spent, decisions have already been made, the vote is just a formality, and where everyone speaks and no one listens.

Resilient communities happen where people listen together, investigate together, plan together and act together.

At a recent water meeting in my community, a group of residents who have been fighting a water project for the past ten years were almost bowled over when one of the board members suggested that perhaps they should conduct a workshop so that the project’s opponents would have an opportunity to explain their concerns.

It may be ten years too late or it may be a fresh start toward greater participation.

Either way, Slow Democracy provides a roadmap.  Slow Democracy:  buy it, share it, apply it.

 

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