Tag Archives: Orange County Water District

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

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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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

Ka-Ching! Tardy Orange County Water District Directors Rake the Cash

By John Earl

Director Steven Sheldon called me out at the August 24, 2016 meeting of the Orange County Water District Board of Directors. 

He did so after I spoke during public comments about habitually tardy directors, including him.

Sheldon asked me a question. When I tried to answer, he got angry and cut me off, arguing that I didn’t know what I was talking about.

I’m going to answer his question, but first some background.

OCWD directors receive $250 per meeting, even if they arrive late and/or leave early, for up to 10 meetings per month at $2,500 per month or $30,000 per year.

Ka-ching! Continue reading Ka-Ching! Tardy Orange County Water District Directors Rake the Cash

Petition: The Orange County Water District Should Livestream its Public Meetings

By John Earl

The purpose of this petition is to request that the Orange County Water District Board of Directors provide live Internet broadcasting and video archiving of all of the District’s public meetings.

{Sign the petition here}

OCWD clowns
A clip from a video that shows OCWD directors Steven Sheldon (holding phone on left) and Roman Reyna (grinning on the right) clowning around while others concentrate on the meeting.

To promote open government and citizen participation in the governing process, all but two cities in Orange County have for years provided “livestreaming” of their public meetings. The South Coast Water District in Dana Point also provides livestreaming of its meetings.

The OCWD manages the Santa Ana River groundwater basin and operates the largest waste-water purification system in the world. It supplies 75 percent of the water used by 2.4 million residents living in 19 cities in north Orange County. Continue reading Petition: The Orange County Water District Should Livestream its Public Meetings

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

Water Board President’s Coastal Commission Claims Questioned

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.

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Poseidon’s Reliability Promise: Pay More For the Same

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

Will water ratepayers benefit if the Orange County Water District partners with Poseidon Resources Inc. to build a $1 billion ocean desalination plant in Huntington Beach?

The OCWD manages the Santa Ana River (groundwater) basin that provides over 70 percent of the water for central and northern Orange County.

For the past 19 months its board of directors has highballed the proposed project toward a contract with Poseidon that, so far, looks like a bad deal for ratepayers.

That deal would lock OCWD into buying 56,000 acre feet of desalinated water annually for the next 50 years, regardless of need.

And, at 3-10 times the price, it would replace an equal amount of water currently imported from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MET) to help keep the basin at safe levels.

But most of OCWD’s producers (the 19 member agencies who pump water from the basin) will end up paying for Poseidon’s water, whether they want it or not.

One of those producer agencies, the Irvine Ranch Water District, thinks that would be unfair. Continue reading Poseidon’s Reliability Promise: Pay More For the Same

Poseidon Desal: Will OCWD Be Shipwrecked by Mermaids?

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

Centuries ago, explorers sailed Poseidon’s Seven Seas looking for beautiful mermaids and lands full of golden treasures.

Although some of the hapless adventurers may have found what they were looking for, those who didn’t drink too much seawater were usually disappointed.

Today, it looks like Poseidon, the God of the Sea, is up to his old tricks again.

This time, taking corporate form (same as being human under American law), he’s promising to build a new source of water–an ocean desalination plant in Huntington Beach–that will create an additional and reliable supply of water for the Orange County Water District’s ratepayers.

At least that’s what most people think he is promising.

But is he?

Any proposed deal between the OCWD and Poseidon Resources Inc. to build an ocean desalination plant will depend upon a subsidy of $400 million, doled out to Poseidon for a 15-year-period, courtesy of water ratepayers throughout Southern California.

The OCWD manages the Santa Ana River Groundwater Basin, which supplies over 70 percent of the drinking water for Central and North Orange County.

The desalination plant would turn about 56,000 acre feet of seawater into drinking water every year. Continue reading Poseidon Desal: Will OCWD Be Shipwrecked by Mermaids?

OC Water District: Tomorrow’s Forecast is Cloudy with a Chance of Error

By Debbie Cook
Special to the Surf City Voice

Give me a chimpanzee with a dart board and I’ll give you an equally unreliable water demand forecast as we are getting from Orange County’s water leaders.

Who cares about a forecast you say? It’s just garbage in, garbage out?

We will all care when we discover that taking out the garbage just cost us a billion dollars for an ocean desalination project!

In business, you risk your own money when you make a bad forecast. In the public arena, the public pays the cost of bad forecasting in expensive and unnecessary projects.

In Orange County, hardly a meeting of a water agency goes by without a board member championing the need for ever-increasing water supplies. On two recent occasions I have heard Orange County Water District Board Member Cathy Green project that “we” needed another 80 to 90 thousand acre feet of water by 2035 due to projected population increases.

Many, if not most public agencies rely heavily on population growth as a driver of future water demand forecasts. It seems logical at first blush; more people, more demand. But the reality is more nuanced, and population and consumption are becoming poorly correlated due to many factors.

The Seattle Public Utilities is a case on point. Prior to investing heavily in massive infrastructure, they decided to re-visit their demand projection forecasts that were constantly revised downward, as shown in the chart below.

Cascade water alliance

For example, they discovered that in 1985 the City of Seattle projected that demand by 2000 would be 200 million gallons per day (mg/d) and by 2005 would be 210 to 215 mg/d. The actual 1987 demand turned out to be 147mg/d and in 1992 it was 130 mg/d.

In the Seattle region, the reevaluation of demand forecasting ushered in the adoption of new forecasting models that serve the unique characteristics of each community. Population is still a consideration but it is now modified by mitigating factors. These changes have resulted in the determination that water demands could be met through 2050 without additional and costly infrastructure projects.

capture-20150304-140610

Indeed, nationwide, urban water consumption is responding to practices that are driving down per capita consumption, including the price of water, frequency of billing, changing demographics, housing types, the extent of adoption of efficient technologies, conservation, and the effect of education and public attitude.

Has Orange County avoided this national trend? Let’s see.

OCWD manages the Orange County groundwater basin and serves those cities that hold rights to pump from the basin. This year, the basin is providing 72 percent of North Orange County’s water needs.

From the OCWD website I was able to download Engineer’s Reports from the past eight years. From these and other public documents you can see that OCWD members are making the same forecasting errors that were being made in the Seattle region.

In 2005/06 OCWD forecast demand would jump from the then current demand of 500,000 acre-feet to 614,000 acre feet by 2025. By 2012/13 they had modified projections from the then current demand of 435,000 acre feet to 525,000 acre feet by 2035. In an eight year span the demand forecast had been reduced by 89,000 acre feet without any analysis or comment.

scantryagain1
But what is the trend in the OCWD service area? In other public documents I found historic data going back to 1989. If you run a linear trend line forward you see that consumption is trending downward, not upward.

FINALUSE2

There is no debate that population has increased in Orange County. However, reading OCWD’s reports shows that perhaps we need to bring back the chimp for another round. Here are the reported then-current populations and projected populations listed in the reports:

2005/06 2.3 million, grows to 2.55 by 2025
2006/07 2.3 million, grows to 2.55 by 2025
2007/08 2.4 million, grows to 2.67 by 2025
2008/09 2.38 million grows to 2.7 by 2035
2009/10 2.38 million, grows to 2.7 by 2035
2010/11 2.28 million (census year), grows to 2.54 in 2035
2011/12 2.28 million, grows to 2.7 in 2035
2012/13 2.28 million, grows to 2.7 in 2035

The reality check was the 2010 census, but future and past population numbers appear to be plucked from thin air, lacking any kind of objectivity or scientific rigor. I think it is fair to say that these figures are random at best.

Orange County has not bucked the nationwide trend of declining per capita consumption. But like many water agencies, OCWD ignores the data or uses it to promote a self-serving agenda.

What we focus on determines what we get. Unions and consultants want to build massive infrastructure projects and favor forecasts that show growth in demand. Ecologists want multi-benefit solutions that reduce environmental harms. Rate payers want abundant water and stable rates but are caught in the middle, confused by bad forecasts and misinformation.

Accurate forecasting allows agencies to meet water needs in an efficient manner and at the minimum cost. But if our forecasting is consistently bad, if we never submit our data to a reality check, then we can easily forecast a future of costly water decisions.

 

 

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