Poseidon and OCWD: Manufacturing Consent at State Lands Commission Hearing

Note: The Surf City Voice website was destroyed by hackers in December, 2019 and is under reconstruction. This article was first posted on October 23, 2017.

By Debbie Cook

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

Poseidon’s “White Paper” In our opinion, the most critical issue that Poseidon must demonstrate to you today is that the Orange County Water District has a “need” for 50mgd of desalinated water. It is disappointing to report that, based on my research, OCWD and Poseidon have cherry picked their data in order to manufacture a

In a white paper presented to you in 2016, Poseidon used the OCWD’s 2015 groundwater management plan to substantiate a demand forecast of 525,000 AF/Y in 2035.

Summary of demands and Orange County supplies (average year).MWDOC’s 2015 plan was the most comprehensive look at water needs in Orange County that the agency has ever undertaken, incorporating demand management strategies to better predict future needs.  And MWDOC used extremely conservative assumptions to ensure they weren’t underestimating future demand. Their study resulted in a 90,000 AF reduction in future demand from previous inaccurate predictions.  The public response to the 2015 drought has proven that future demand modeling must implement these new methodologies in order to keep agencies from building unnecessary infrastructure that can become stranded assets.

Poseidon’s “White Paper”

Demand softening is not a new trend — it has been occurring throughout the county since 1999.

It is happening in Santa Ana where the usage in August according to a KPCC investigation was 51 gallons per capita and in Newport Beach where it was 100 gallons.

But OCWD has chosen to go rogue and manufacture its own projections.

Manufactured water projections.

Leaving that issue aside, I want to point to a pattern of behavior that has come to light as a result of a public records act request by Surf City Voice.  We received copies of hundreds of emails between OCWD and Poseidon that demonstrate a level of collusion far beyond what is appropriate for a public agency. The records we received showed conclusively that what OCWD sent this Commission was put together with the sole intent to mislead you. It is NOT evidence you can use to base your decisions on.

These are two charts prepared by OCWD’s John Kennedy and emailed to Poseidon to use as they prepared material to convince this commission of “need.”  The top two pie charts are supposed to be current conditions and the bottom two pie charts are a future scenario with Poseidon’s 50mgd.

The chart on the left was sent in May and the one on the right in June.  They can’t both be correct. And they are both misleading. Proving there is a need for this project can’t be just a matter of choosing the data that serves the desired result? You can’t sign the Statement of Overriding Considerations without trustworthy evidence.

But what is really perplexing is trying to reconcile the data in the chart that OCWD submitted to you on September 8 with the previous charts and with their own reports.


These charts are now identified as “sources of supply” rather than actual demand.  But the accompanying letter implies they are one and the same.

In 2015 actual demand, according to OCWD’s own 2015-16 Engineer’s report, was 367,000 acre-feet, not 425,000.  Basin pumping that year was 75% which means that less than 100,000 AF was treated imported water from MWD, not 122,000 indicated on the chart.

This inconsistency in terms, the constantly changing numbers and eliminating information is intended to mislead you.  If their 2015 chart is so fallacious, what is your confidence level in the 2023 chart.  How do they justify 455,000 AF in 2023? They clearly did not rely on MWDOC’s UWMP.

Another method both OCWD and Poseidon have used to confuse the issue is the “overdraft” of the basin.  The amount of water in storage is a management issue and remedied by increasing purchases and/or reducing basin pumping. The board makes that decision once a year in consultation with member agencies.

Letter from groundwater producers.

Frequently, the member agencies persuade OCWD’s board to reduce the amount of imported water they purchase in order to keep rates lower, rates that have risen on average 8.5% per year since 1999.  That’s a choice for them – but it’s not about unreliability of imported water. OCWD usually accommodates those requests even when it means violating their own policy.

At the height of the drought in 2015 the board not only did not increase their replenishment budget as they could have, they increased basin pumping percentage.

Poseidon recognizes how important the issue of need is in order to convince you that only Poseidon’s project will meet the  “basic objectives” in your SEIR.

In an exchange between Board Member Cathy Green and Poseidon’s Scott Maloni, lamenting the comments submitted by IRWD to your draft EIR, Scott says to her, “We’re really going to need OCWD to put in a big push for the “need” for the project.”

But the facts are the facts.  OCWD is a groundwater management agency that cannot sell water outside of its jurisdiction.  They have tied themselves into a pretzel trying to figure out what to do with this water, coming up with no less than 10 “options” for distribution.

At multiple workshops, OCWD staff, not wanting to ruffle board feathers, gently makes the case for less water, such as, “Smaller program is more feasible for Poseidon Project (up to 10,000 afy).” Importantly, a 10,000 afy project makes subsurface intakes even more feasible.

In another slide (“Potential to have too much water for recharge in some years”).

And another,  (“Possibility for coastal GW levels to become too high, potentially creating issues”).

It has been nearly 20 years since Poseidon arrived in Southern California from Connecticut.  Since they arrived, residents and businesses have continued to reduce cumulative demand in the County. And we have developed a world-renowned wastewater recycling and groundwater replenishment project currently delivering 103,000 ac/ft/yr that we didn’t have when Poseidon arrived. Even more exciting, that project has encouraged LA County Sanitation to do the same thing with their wastewater – and Orange County could get 65,000 ac/ft/yr for our groundwater replenishment. We have much more potential for conservation and stormwater retention including storing more water behind Prado Dam. Now OCWD is struggling to figure out what they would do with Poseidon’s water – and the idea of putting it into the groundwater basin is running the risk of “crowding out” preferred alternatives.

Poseidon came here because this is one of two places they found a power plant owner willing to share the intake and discharge pipes – not because they were solicited. And those intake and discharge pipes are now being phased out to protect our precious marine life.

We haven’t needed Poseidon for the 20 years they’ve been here. And if and when we decide we need desalinated ocean water, then ­we should decide how much we need, where it should be built, what technology to use, and who should build and operate it.  Poseidon has turned that process on its head.  Thank you.

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