New OCWD Director’s Poseidon Alternative

Note: The Surf City Voice website was attacked and destroyed by hackers in December, 2019 and is under reconstruction. This story was first published August 8, 2019.

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

OCWD Director, Kelly Rowe. Photo: Surf City Voice

Kelly Rowe of Costa Mesa stunned the Poseidon underworld when he soundly defeated two-term Orange County Water District board-member Shawn Dewane in the 2018 election.

Since 2013, Dewane and OCWD directors Cathy Green, Steve Sheldon, and Denis Bilodeau have fought hard for Poseidon Resources to build a $1 billion ocean desalination plant in Huntington Beach and sign a water purchase agreement with OCWD.

Rowe will try to end that obsession by refocusing OCWD’s efforts.

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The remaining members of Poseidon’s coterie still obsess over Poseidon’s proposed desal deal: buy 56,000 AF of desalinated water every year for 30 years, regardless of need, at 3 or more times the price of imported water sold by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MET) for groundwater basin refills.

So far, none of OCWD’s 19 producers (water pumpers) seem interested, except Mesa Water where Dewane sits on the board of directors.

And a recent water-reliability study by the Municipal Water District of Orange County put Poseidon at the bottom of its list of needed project options. The OCWD has always refused to study project alternatives, thanks to the Poseidon coterie.

But Green loves to equate the Poseidon project to OCWD’s toilet-to-tap Groundwater Replenishment System (GWRS), which produces potable water using the same process as Poseidon but at half the cost.

Green claims that GWRS also had critics, but it turned out great and so will the Poseidon project, which (she says) is desperately needed.

Rowe is a licensed geologist, hydrologist and floodplain manager with 40 years experience building and managing groundwater wells and facilities.

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He was an OCWD board member from 1998-2000 when he voted to approve the GWRS Environmental Impact Report.

“I note that we did not have any public opposition,” he recently told the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board, whose members were considering the “need” for Poseidon.

“Although Poseidon proponents say that we did have opposition, I get really angry when I hear that,” he said.

Noting that the GWRS provides twice as much water (soon to be 2 1/2 times) as Poseidon’s desal plant would, Rowe called the Poseidon project “an insult to intelligent water resources management professionals, a foolish waste of their funds and efforts over the last 20 years.”

Rowe proposed a different plan.

If OCWD lowers the basin too much, incoming seawater contaminates its fresh water supply. That limits the amount of water OCWD can safely pump from the basin.

Rowe wants the OCWD to build an upgraded and “long overdue” 14-miles-long coastal seawater intrusion barrier so that it can safely withdraw 3 to 5 million AF, compared to 1.5 million AF now, of the basin’s 60 million AF of water.

That would ensure water reliability for 10 years without replenishment and “would delay by decades the need for any ocean water desalination plant”, he said

If we ever need ocean desalination, he added, “OCWD could surely build and operate such a facility much cheaper than the proposed Poseidon project.”

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