When OCWD’s Poseidon Lie Officially Started: Looking Back
February 18, 2020
Note: The Surf City Voice website was destroyed by hackers in December, 2019 and is under reconstruction. This story was first published July 17, 2018 under the headline, “OCWD’s Poseidon Lie Started Officially on July 24, 2013.”
By John Earl Surf City Voice
We will never know exactly when some members of the Orange County Water District Board of Directors (OCWD BOD) decided to put the interests of Poseidon Resources over the interests of the District’s 2.5 million ratepayers, but July 24, 2013, might be remembered in OCWD history as a day of infamy.
Left to right: Shawn Dewane, Denis Bilodeau, Cathy Green. Voting for the 2015 Poseidon/OCWD term sheet. Photo: Surf City Voice
That’s when OCWD officially became a partner with Poseidon by dusting off and amending a nearly forgotten 2010 confidentiality agreement signed with the company three years before.
That agreement allowed for the exchange of private financial information that could lead to a water purchase agreement requiring OCWD to buy 56,000 AF of Poseidon’s expensive desalinated water per year for 30 – 50 years regardless of need, which to this day hasn’t been demonstrated officially or otherwise by OCWD or Poseidon.
The resolution, which passed 8 – 0 (two directors absent) continued to protect the company’s supposed trade secrets while obtaining “additional information from Poseidon Resources to study the economic feasibility of the seawater desalination facility in Huntington Beach that may lead to a water purchase agreement for the entire production capacity of the plant.”
Opponents and proponents of the project packed the boardroom and expressed their views to a board that by previous behaviors had already made up its mind.
Bruce Whitaker was the only director who expressed skepticism even though he voted for the resolution. To Whitaker, it boiled down to pure economics—ocean desalination is still too expensive—and the lack of a demonstrated need for the project.
OCWD Director Vincent Sarmiento. Photo: John Earl
But Director Vincente Sarmiento’s views dominated the Board’s decision. He said it would be “reckless” not to study how the Poseidon project could work, along with all other water reliability options, and that the District was not committing to the project.
But the coup de grâce for any claim of transparency or honesty ever made by the OCWD BOD about the Poseidon project since that 2013 board meeting was the following exchange (recorded on audio starting at 1:15) between Director Denis Bilodeau (the current board president), OCWD legal counsel Joel Kuperburg, and OCWD General Manager Mike Markus.
Bilodeau: In terms of the confidentiality agreement, I guess that’s something that will be reviewed by our district counsel?
Bilodeau: Okay. And in terms of the receipt of the information, have we figured out what we’re going to do with that information? That would go to the staff and staff only, I take it?
Markus: Hmm huh (indicating yes)
Bilodeau: And I just want to make sure that the public knows that this isn’t going to be a—you know—secret meetings occurring or something outside of the Brown Act. You know, we’re, the board is not going to receive the information directly. I take it that the staff is going to receive, boil it down, and perhaps as appropriate, provide the information to the board in a public forum?
The purpose of those meetings was to discuss all aspects of the Poseidon project to renegotiate a term sheet between Poseidon and OCWD approved by the OCWD BOD in 2015.
OCWD President, Denis Bilodeau, at State Lands Commission hearing on Poseidon.
Staff presented the ad hoc committee’s renegotiated term sheet to the full OCWD BOD last June 6 but the board postponed its vote after public citizens and some board members called for more time to consider information previously known only to the ad hoc committee members and Poseidon.
John Earl is the publisher and editor for the Surf City Voice and Poseidon Town. In the late 1980s, he covered local politics for the Huntington Beach News. In 2005, he was a founding member and first president of Residents for Responsible Desal, which he left in 2006 to become editor of the print newspaper, OC Voice.