Tag Archives: Poseidon desalination

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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Tardy Water Director Feels ‘Unsafe’ at Public Meeting

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

Nearly thirty-four minutes into a recent early-morning committee meeting of the Orange County Water District, Director Denis Bilodeau silently slunk into a big black chair and pulled himself up to the table.

The table takes up almost half of the room, which is less than the size of the garage space provided at your local self-service car wash.

Bilodeau sat with five fellow members of the OCWD Board of Directors (Sarmiento, Green, Anthony, Flory and Dewane), their legal counsel, a staff member, and the general manager who always sits at the head of the table under a wall TV.

The wall facing the general manager from the other end of the table and the wall to his right were lined with chairs occupied by other staff and a couple of public citizens.

Bilodeau sat on the side of the room to the general manager’s left. And there I was, standing a few feet behind him, with my iPhone perched on a monopod far above the back of his neck.

Directly behind me was a counter-top with the usual breakfast buffet of hard-boiled eggs, Danish, muffins, bagels, and fruit for the directors—bought with ratepayers’ money for about $95.00

When Bilodeau arrived, I was already live streaming the (Feb. 12) meeting via the Internet—at no cost to myself or the public. Continue reading Tardy Water Director Feels ‘Unsafe’ at Public Meeting

Mesa Water District: ‘Plz Don’t Circulate this Story!’ And Director Fisler Gets Even

 

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

Editor’s note: See related story, here.

Getting thirty-minutes of interview time in January 2012 with the Mesa Water District’s general manager, Paul Shoenberger, wasn’t easy.

Spontaneous interviews with Mesa Water staff or members of the board of directors are discouraged whenever possible by Communications Manager, Stacy Taylor. Potentially tough or touchy media questions must be submitted to her in advance so that she can provide public answers that fit Mesa Water’s “unified voice” template.

At Taylor’s insistence, general interview questions were submitted in advance, but with my stipulation that there was no guarantee that I would limit myself to the exact wording of those questions during the interview or would not ask follow up questions.

The interview took place in Mesa Water’s executive committee room and was strictly limited to 30 minutes in the presence of both Shoenberger and Taylor and was recorded by both parties.

The main topic of the interview was CalDesal, the secretive non-profit organization that Mesa Water started—with ratepayers’ money—several years ago—and still helps finance with free labor and services even though CalDesal supposedly went its own private way—to promote ocean desalination projects and the desalination industry.

Contrary to California’s open meetings law, the general public is not allowed at CalDesal meetings nor is it generally given meeting agendas and minutes. Financial documents, the “990” forms that non-profits are required to disclose, are also denied repeatedly to this reporter by CalDesal’s president, Shawn Dewane, who is also a Mesa Water board member.

James Fisler
A cheap shot of Mesa Water’s Director James Fisler at a CalDesal mixer. Photo: provided by Mesa Water District

At the time, I didn’t know that the entire process was being directed by a public relations consulting firm, Laer Pearce Associates, that charged Mesa’s ratepayers between $265 – $350 per hour and that hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars would be paid to LPA to prepare Shoenberger for the interview, on top of what was paid to Mesa’s communications manager, Stacy Taylor, who gets close to $200,000 a year including benefits.

Emails acquired under the Public Records Act later would reveal how cynically manipulative Shoenberger, Taylor and LPA had been and that Mesa Water officials are motivated more by vanity than a desire to objectively inform the ratepayers.

Before the interview, their goal was to limit and control the questions as much as possible. After publication, the main goal was to contain the interview and to marginalize this reporter, while violating copyright law (republishing the story without permission), even though LPA president Laer Pearce and Taylor both agreed that the edited interview was fair and accurate.

An email from Taylor to Mesa Water directors and staff, and to LPA, for example, stated, in full:

  • Greetings: The attached story ran on the Surf City Voice blog on May 28, 2012. I purposely did not share the link to the post & removed all Surf City Voice links from the story. If you wish to share this, please do so using the attached instead of going to the website. I have also pasted the story below. So far, I found that Aquafornia (blog) has posted this story & it will probably be posted by OC Voice soon (I will let you know). Also, there is only one reply to this story as follows below the story. All in all, I think this turned out as good as can be expected from this type of media opportunity.

In another, earlier, email, Taylor wrote, “Plz (sic) don’t circulate the story link I sent you since doing so will add to its ‘popularity’ on the web (each click on the link will increase the story’s web ranking). Instead, I will capture the content for sharing. Please feel free to contact me any time re. this.”

Curiously, Ron Wildermuth, Director of Public Information and Conservation at West Basin Water District where Shoenberger had served for years as assistant general manager, was also included in the emails. “Good job,” he wrote to Shoenberger, “This is about as hostile and biased an interviewer I have seen in a while. You stuck to your points well.”

But Pearce praised the interview story.

“John Earl admits he is not objective, but insists he writes objectively,” he said. “On is (sic) story, I have to agree. He let his biases show, but told the CalDesal and Mesa Water stories fairly. Of course it helped that Paul tied everything to Mission and was not swayed off the core messages of the district.”

Although Pearce misunderstood my theory on journalistic objectivity (namely, that any reporter who claims to be without bias is either deluded or a liar, and that acknowledgement of that bias first and foremost to self helps facilitate honest, in-depth reporting), the objectivity he shows in his review of my story is also praiseworthy, despite the excessive cost to Mesa Water’s ratepayers.

Mesa Water Director (and current board president) James Fisler, was both complimentary and critical:

  • Very good job Paul! No dodging, just telling it like it is and sticking to Mesa’s message and priority of providing water. Good questions by Earl and good answers by you. Shows Mesa Water is on top of it’s (sic) mission. Earl’s only attempted “gotcha” of people at mixers is a poor attempt. Business and chambers have mixers all the time. They are very important parts of getting business done and learning new things by networking. Again, great job.

Fisler was referring to my photos of him and other directors at a CalDesal mixer-meeting attended by about 100 water officials, consultants and representatives of the desalination industry, but nobody from the general public.

In another email later that day, Fisler added:

  • “…If it was supposed to be a hit piece or something it failed miserably. I need to get a picture of Earl eating a donut at WACO.”

Fisler was expressing a grudge against this reporter that he still holds to this day. Writing under the pen name “nogrowther” on the Orange Juice blog, he lashed out at me over a year ago for publishing the detailed objections of Irvine Ranch Water district director, Peer Swan, to the Poseidon ocean desalination project proposed for Huntington Beach.

Fisler bitterly complained that I didn’t say the pledge of allegiance at water Municipal Water District of Orange County (MWDOC) meetings, that I was unkempt in appearance and that I liked to eat the donuts that are left out at MWDOC meetings for water buffaloes like him.

Eventually, Fisler’s “gotcha” wish came true, about a year later at the recent (May) joint-meeting of MWDOC and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MET) held at the MWDOC board room in Fountain Valley.

I was sitting in one of the plebeian seats at the back of the room, directly opposite of the speaker’s podium, next to Debbie Cook, watching a presentation on MWDOC’s $120,000 video screen by MET’s general manager, Jeffrey Kightlinger about the Sacramento Delta. We need to spend billions of dollars fixing the Delta levies and to build a big double-barreled tunnel to import more water to southern California, he said.

Kightlinger was predicting the disastrous consequences to California’s economy of a Delta broken to pieces by a 100-year earthquake – coming any day now. Suffering from acute sleep deprivation, I desperately walked over to the refreshment table to help myself to a glazed twister.

“Anything to stay awake,” I thought. “Must…help…save…the…Delta.”

Out of the 100 or so water buffaloes present, only Fisler seemed unable to pay attention to the important message and had become obsessed, as I lifted the doughnut, with watching me like a hawk from one of the big black MWDOC directors’ seats behind the dais.

Smelling blood, the upcoming Delta catastrophe apparently gone from his mind, Fisler approached me.

Standing over me just a few feet away, dour faced, he shyly snapped a couple of photos of me holding my doughnut on a plate and kindly offering it up to him. He still didn’t laugh or even smile.Then he walked back to his seat where, perhaps, his attention returned to more important matters.

One other interesting tidbit found in the exchange of emails is a missive from Poseidon’s VP, Scott Maloni, an important member of Mesa Water’s inner circle of close friends. Always angry over my critical reporting of the dreamed of but still elusive Huntington Beach ocean desalination plant over the years, he refuses to answer my media questions and long ago banned other Poseidon CEOs from doing so. In his email to Shoenberger, he wrote:

“Paul – As I’ve told Kevin Hunt [former general manager at MWDOC], John Earl is not a journalist; you don’t owe him ‘transparency.’ Nothing good will ever come out of engaging him and he’ll never be someone you can trust or befriend. Best to ignore him or have your staff handle him.”

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