Garbage In + Gospel Out = Poseidon’s Desal Price Predictions: Looking Back to 2018

Note: The Surf City Voice website was destroyed by hackers in December, 2019 and is under reconstruction. This analysis was first posted July 24, 2018.

By Debbie Cook
Special to the Surf City Voice

Mark Twain popularized the saying that, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics.”

Take the Orange County Water District’s (OCWD) promotion of the proposed Poseidon Resources ocean desalination plant, for instance.

Left to right: Shawn Dewane, Denis Bilodeau, Cathy Green. Voting for the 2015 Poseidon/OCWD term sheet. Photo: Surf City Voice

At its July 18 meeting, the OCWD Board of Directors approved a revised term sheet with Poseidon, thus moving closer to a binding contract to buy expensive water from the company’s proposed $1 billion ocean desalination plant for 30 – 35 years regardless of need.

Hundreds of citizens attended the meeting to oppose the project.

Before the board voted, Executive Director of Engineering John Kennedy presented a report with a chart requested by Director Cathy Green. The chart compares the historical cost of the Groundwater Replenishment System (GWRS) water to the price of imported water from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD).

John Kennedy’s chart incorrectly cites the “actual” GWRS cost and compares it to MWD water (from OCWD staff report, July 18, 2018).

Many people in the audience (and some of the OCWD directors) probably saw the chart as evidence that GWRS water was cheaper than both untreated and treated MWD water.

The inference being that Poseidon water too would one day be cheaper than treated MWD water.

But the chart was another example of the “garbage in, gospel out” reasoning that OCWD often uses to convince the public to accept Poseidon’s overpriced water.

It all boils down to how the recipient of the information defines “actual,” the word Kennedy deceptively uses in his chart to describe the price of GWRS water.

Because actually, the full cost of GWRS water has never been cheaper than untreated imported water—the only water that OCWD buys from MWD (so comparing GWRS to MWD treated water is irrelevant).

GWRS water only seems cheaper if you count the MWD subsidies the project receives, subsidies that will end in 2019.

OCWD implies that subsidies are cost-free, but we all pay for them in our water bills.

Not only has the GWRS project received subsidies from MWD, but it also received subsidies from the Orange County Sanitation District.

According to OCWD’s own website, the full cost of GWRS water is  $850 per acre-foot.

But the above snippet pulled from the OCWD website still misleads the reader; because remember, OCWD only buys untreated water from MWD.

Here is a chart I created using OCWD statistics to compare the cost of GWRS with and without subsidies to untreated water.

Chart created by Debbie Cook, based on OCWD statistics.

Kennedy’s report took the same misleading approach when comparing the cost of Poseidon’s water to MWD water.

Kennedy’s July 18 staff report uses the  MWD treated rate and subtracts an MWD subsidy from its comparison of MWD and Poseidon water.

The above comparison chart subtracts the $399 million MWD subsidy ($475 AF for 15 years) that Poseidon would receive. Then it compares MWD treated water (which now costs $1,050 AF) to Poseidon’s water, even though the district buys only untreated water (which now costs $740 AF).

Counting the subsidy, Poseidon’s project unit cost would be $2,266 AF, not $1,791 claimed in the chart, and Poseidon’s water would actually cost $1,520 more per AF compared to untreated MWD water) and $1,216 more per AF compared to treated MWD water.

Keep in mind that Kennedy’s staff report and its skewered cost calculations are the results of three years of behind-closed-doors collusion between Poseidon and an illegal committee of five adamantly pro-Poseidon board members.

History shows that MWD has always been a reliable water supply source, but it also shows that we can count on the OCWD Board of Directors to convince people that without Poseidon’s overpriced water we will dry up and blow away.

The Board’s use of Poseidon propaganda instead of facts to create water-management policy disserves the public and will ultimately burden OCWD’s 2.4 million ratepayers with unnecessary cost increases.

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