Tag Archives: conservation

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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Mesa Water on Conservation: In Cuba maybe, but not here

By John Earl

To the five elected directors of the Mesa Water District, conservation is a Trojan horse, unleashing Cuban-style authoritarianism, drop by drop.

The answer to the worst California drought in 500 years, they say, is to sell more water and build more ocean desalination plants.

“The solution to drought is water,” opined Director Fred Bockmiller during a recent (Nov. 10) Mesa workshop. Conservation doesn’t solve the lack of water, he reasoned, “It just means you don’t use it.”

In 2014, after three years of severe drought and foot-dragging by the state’s 400 water agencies, Governor Jerry Brown mandated state-wide conservation standards designed to achieve a 25 percent reduction in overall water use.

The Governor’s plan increased water savings by 28 percent at little if any inconvenience to Orange County residents. Continue reading Mesa Water on Conservation: In Cuba maybe, but not here

OCWD: Costly Desalination Plan Trumped by Common Sense Alternatives

By Joe Geever
Special to the Surf City Voice

Some of Orange County’s water managers and politicians insist that a proposed partnership between Poseidon Resources Inc. and the Orange County Water District to build a $1 billion ocean desalination plant in Huntington Beach is a good deal at even three or more times the $600 an-acre-foot price currently paid by OCWD for imported water.

That’s a great price to pay for a reliable source of water during shortages caused by drought, earthquakes, and population growth, they say, because it would protect our economy and general welfare.

Opponents of the Poseidon project, however, argue that we already have reliable water sources that could be strengthened by minor management changes.

Conservation, rainwater retention, and expanded wastewater recycling are suggested as cheaper alternatives to ocean desalination.

Those proposed changes are much more cost effective than desalination and would help to maintain a reliable marine life population along the California coast.

Now a new idea has come forth from one of the County’s most experienced water managers, Peer Swan, who serves on the Irvine Ranch Water District Board of Directors.

Speaking to over 200 Orange County residents at a town-hall meeting in Huntington Beach on March 4, Swan explained how a commonsense change in the way we manage our groundwater basin and water imports could provide all the reliability we need, avoiding nearly $1 billion in desalination costs every 10 years.

On average, north Orange County gets about 70 percent of its water by pumping it from the groundwater basin. The 30 percent difference is made up with water purchases that member agencies make from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD).

OCWD manages the basin to prevent excessive overdraft, but not necessarily to maximize its potential capacity.

There are three major sources of water used to recharge the basin: 1) rainfall/Santa Ana river flows; 2) the Ground Water Replenishment System (turning waste water into drinking water); and, 3) imported water from MWD.

Swan’s solution for water reliability is simple.

Historically, severe drought has caused MWD to reduce water allocations in one out of 15 years. To be conservative, Swan assumed water rationing in two out of ten years.

If OCWD and its member agencies withdrew less water from the basin during the eight years that have rain while maximizing their use of imported water, the basin would be full for dry periods, acting as our water reliability “insurance” policy during years of water rationing.

The groundwater basin, our water bank, eliminates any need to create additional “reliability” supplies at enormous cost.

Before shifting an exorbitant $1 billion insurance policy to the ratepayers, water managers should thoroughly analyze all of the commonsense alternatives.

But the OCWD’s board of directors has been loath to use commonsense over the past year, rushing toward a draft contract with Poseidon, while limiting transparency and public discussion of important issues left unanswered.

(The Draft Term Sheet be discussed by the board this Wednesday, March 18, 5:30 p.m. at 18700 Ward St. in Fountain Valley).

Ratepayers want reduced water bills. Conservationists want reduced environmental impacts. These two constituencies are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but Swan’s commonsense approach would answer both of their concerns.

It is simply not good enough for our elected representatives on water boards to respond with the hollow claim that, “Even if we did all the alternatives first, we still need the water Poseidon is offering.”

Without numbers and analysis attached to that unsupported claim, we shouldn’t give Poseidon our trust, or our money.

Poseidon is pushing OWCD hard to sign a “take or pay” contract—the ratepayers must buy its boutique water even in the 14 years that it isn’t needed (assuming it ever would be).

But as ratepayers in Australia recently learned, racing to build desalination facilities before exhausting better alternatives has turned out to be short sighted and costly for ratepayers who were forced to take water they didn’t need after all.

If OCWD signs Poseidon’s proposed “take or pay” contract before implementing preferable alternatives, Australia’s costly lesson on water mismanagement will have been lost at the expense of Orange County’s ratepayers.

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Desalination: Focus on affordable solutions

By Debbie Cook
Special to the Surf City Voice

Debbie Cook is the former mayor of Huntington Beach. As a member of the Huntington Beach City Council, she opposed the Poseidon desalination project proposed for the city. She served on the state’s Desalination Task Force and has written extensively on the relationship between water and energy as well as peak oil. Her articles have appeared in a wide array of publications and she is well known for her expertise on energy related issues. This is the last of three parts.

Worldwide, humans have quickly and wastefully consumed water from the cheapest sources by over-pumping aquifers and over-allocating rivers. We’ve turned to technology to eke out more but technology is not without its costs. Every remaining incremental gallon of water will come at a higher and higher price. Are we nearing a breaking point?

Prior to the 2008 run-up in oil prices, gasoline, like water, was widely believed to be inelastic–that consumption of such an essential commodity would grow despite the price. But as gasoline prices headed toward $4/gallon, discretionary spending shrank and the economy shrank.

The rising costs of essentials like food, shelter, energy, and water have a disproportionate impact on low-income households. Low-income assistance programs for water vary significantly from one jurisdiction or utility to the next. For example, in California, San Jose Water provides a 15 percent discount on the total bill while Valencia Water provides a 50 percent discount off the monthly service charge. Such programs shift the costs onto remaining consumers and businesses many of whom are also facing economic distress. Are these programs sustainable in the face of continuous water rate increases and growing economic challenges?

“A solution isn’t a solution if it isn’t affordable.”

Those were the cautionary words of Cuban energy expert Mario Avila who visited California in September of 2010. Cuba has lived through a number of energy crises. The one with which I was familiar was the oil shock that resulted from the collapse of the Soviet Union. But Mario explained that it was the lesser known electricity crisis following the 2005 hurricane season that exposed the vulnerability of their water system. Two power plants were destroyed by two storms plunging the island into relentless daily blackouts. Without electricity, water didn’t move, it could not be treated, and it could not be discharged. Castro declared an “energy revolution” and within a six-month window, thousands of “social workers” were deployed to inventory and replace every incandescent light bulb on the island and promote zero-interest loans for efficient appliances. Rather than replace the two large power plants, the nation built smaller, distributed power plants improving the resiliency of their system and restoring power and water.

Resilience should be the goal of water planners but most options that improve resilience–water harvesting, conservation, demand management– receive a tepid reception. One major reason is because water providers are paid to sell water, not conserve it. And there isn’t an ongoing assurance for funding conservation or efficiency. When budgets get tight, the conservation budget is the first to be eliminated as was done last year by Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD). Ironically, while eliminating the conservation fund, MWD was approving subsidies for desalination and raising water rates because their conservation message had resulted in lower water consumption. Conservation and low tech options for reducing water demand will never compete against capital projects in the current regulatory framework.

Level the playing field
It isn’t surprising that an industry that can’t even quantify water in a consistent unit of measure (acre-feet, gallons, cubic meters, units, cubic foot), would apply different criteria to different water options. The result is a misleading comparison between options.

Here’s an example. Say a proponent tells you that the new desalination project will produce water at $1000/acre-foot. You’re told that your city is buying water from MWD for $750/acre-foot. The natural reaction will be to compare $750 to $1000. But MWDʼs actual production costs are closer to $200 of that $750 figure. That means $550 is covering their fixed costs. So even if you reduce your imported water by 10 percent, the remaining costs (including your city’s 90 percent remainder) will have to be leveled across all water purchasers. Communities that are not the recipients of the desalinated water will nevertheless be footing the bill through subsidies and cost sharing.

Similarly there has not been a fair method for comparing conservation measures to traditional water sources. For example, the cost effectiveness of rainwater tanks has traditionally been calculated by comparing the cost of installation against the savings on household bills. But this ignores the broader cost savings to the community in deferred water infrastructure, storm water infrastructure and environmental externalities like greenhouse gas emissions. When those are accounted for, rainwater harvesting is superior to desalination.

A model already exists for a regulatory framework that would address such conflicting motivations. In 1982 California became the first state to adopt an electric revenue decoupling mechanism. This gave utilities the incentive to promote conservation and efficiency because their ability to recoup their fixed costs was decoupled from the volume of their sales. In addition to decoupled rates, California has a “loading order” of energy preferences that place priority on the least expensive and most environmentally protective resources. When meeting California’s energy needs, conservation and efficiency are considered before additional generation is added.

A sustainable conservation budget would give priority to cost effective programs like water capture, drip irrigation, water recycling, low-flow devices, and water management programs that reduce demand, costs, and bring true resilience to the water sector.

Left to compete on an uneven field, conservation will remain the bastard step-child to desalination. In 2006, many communities in Australia were offering substantial rebates on water tanks. By 2007, demand was so high that prisoners were put to work building tanks. Buoyed by studies that demonstrated other options would be more cost effective than desalination, twenty-three government leaders pledged $250 million toward their goal of reaching 500,000 households. Then in 2008, with the collapsing economy and in the midst of the desalination boom, the Bligh government dismissed wide scale rollout of water tanks. Some officials sensed a threat of competition to their capital projects, going so far as to suggest the licensing of water tanks so as to enable levying taxes on rainwater collected.

Remove the rose-colored glasses
Technology has its place. But it is not magic and shouldn’t be seen as the solution to all our problems. That which is technologically feasible is not necessarily economically feasible. Desalination cannot be “greened” by utilizing solar or wind energy for its energy requirements. Not only is the scale of such a proposal enormous, it ignores the fact that all renewable energy resources are backstopped by fossil fuels. Moreover, the price of such a proposal would significantly increase the cost of desalination, exacerbating the economic problems of water pricing and availability.

Perhaps the most important lesson I have learned over the past eight years of observing the desalination/water industry is that we create our own problems. And we are stuck in a perpetual feedback loop applying fixes to yesterday’s solutions. That’s the perfect recipe for rear-ending our future. The remedy is to increase our awareness of unintended consequences and the dynamic relationships between water, the environment, and human settlements. It is a systems thinking approach that starts with a willingness to open our minds and apply critical thinking.

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How to Shrink America’s Energy Footprint

By Sarah (Steve) Mosko
Special to the Surf City Voice

Americans today are generally aware that we consume far more energy per capita than most of the world’s peoples, over four times the world average and double that of regions like Japan and Europe which enjoy a similar standard of living. Most of us reflect on home gas and electric bills plus the fuel pumped into our cars’ gas tanks when judging our personal energy footprints.

But in reality it is all the “stuff” Americans accumulate that contributes most heavily to our total energy consumption. To understand why this is true, it is necessary to first get a handle on the ways societies utilize energy.

By convention, the energy-consuming activities of society are divided into the four sectors described below: residential, commercial, industry and transportation. The pie chart insert shows the percentage of total U.S. energy delivered in a year to each sector, according to recent U.S. Energy Information Administration figures. Note that the very same pie chart describes the average per capita energy consumption of Americans in the four sectors.

The residential sector reflects the energy used to run our homes (to power lighting, appliances and heating & cooling systems) and, at 15 percent, it’s the next to smallest pie piece. At 40 percent, the transportation sector is largest but includes all energy inputted to move both people and goods about, be it by car, truck, train, plane, boat or pipeline. Given that about half this amount goes into shuttling people, this means that personal transportation and running our homes together account for only about 35 percent of the energy we Americans use.

An additional 11 percent goes to meeting the energy demands of commercial/institutional buildings which constitute the entire service sector of society – businesses, organizations and institutions including schools, hospitals, correctional facilities, stores, restaurants,  theaters, etc. – all of which expend energy for lighting, temperature control systems and appliances like computers and faxes. Though relatively modest, the energy that supports these shared facets of society is overlooked by most of us when contemplating our energy footprint.

Continue reading How to Shrink America’s Energy Footprint