Water issues are nothing new for Orange County or for Tustin in particular. Not too long ago, we were in a drought and the city council was standing behind draconian water saving measures that we, largely are still following. Funny thing is, through all the odd/even, two-day-a-week, four-day-a-week watering schedules we had, our town has always been somewhat conservative in our use of the precious commodity (except for my former neighbor who took great delight in watering my car in the driveway at whatever time it was parked there). So, I have to wonder what is going to happen next in the wonderful world of water.
Of course, we no longer have the drought to deal with. And, although the possibility of another dry spell looms ever present, no one is talking about a lack of water. That is, except, Poseidon and Governor Newsom.
For 20 years, Poseidon Water Inc., which has offices conveniently placed in Huntington Beach, has been pursuing their dream of a desalination plant to be located on the shore of Orange County in the space of an old electrical generating plant. Claiming to be the water savior of OC, they are touting a multimillion dollar facility that would take in 100 million gallons of water a day and spew forth 50 million gallons of fresh, clear drinking water…..and 50 million gallons of salty brine back into our already screwed up coastal water.
Poseidon claims they want to relieve Orange County of their dependence on imported water. What they really want to do, of course, is relieve every rate payer of their spare cash in the form of drastically increased water rates. Cost of desalinated water is astronomical, compared to the cost of water imported from the north and Colorado River. Let’s not forget the Tustin Water Department operates 14 wells around the city which supplies a good portion of our water from the aquifier beneath our feet.
So, what am I getting at? The governor who, as I said, is in love with desalinated water, really wants the Poseidon plant to be built. He wants it so badly that he has taken out a major stumbling block to the project in the form of a Santa Ana Water Board member, William von Blasingame. Von Blasingame is a critic of the water desalinization plant and has publicly questioned it’s necessity. Poseidon, which has sunk over a half billion dollars in lobbying money (that’s cash in the pockets of politicians) into getting this project approved, has a friend in Newsom (we wonder how much of that cash has gone into his altruistic pockets). Newsom, seeing the project possibly derailed by the water board, has taken action by replacing von Blasingame with someone who, I can only speculate, will be willing to play ball or, at the least, not make waves.
That person is our own city councilmember, Leticia Clark. Clark, a first term councilmember running for a second term, has been selected by Governor Newsom to replace von Blasingame. One look at Clark’s resume’ reveals a hopeful career politician hoping to garner support not from her community but from her political affiliations. Since her appointment, she has refused to speak with the press about the Poseidon issue and has not publicly stated her position. Well, gee. Let’s put 2 plus 2 together and see if we can come up with a likely position. With the appointment to a regional board by the governor, comes favors owed. Don’t expect Clark to take the interests of the residents of Orange County into consideration when the governor comes a knockin’. And if she rolls with Newsom on an unnecessary water deal, one has to wonder what else she would do for the sake of her political career.
The Voice of OC has several excellent articles on the reality of the desalination plant. You can find them here.
Judging from the length of the agenda, this week’s Tustin City Council meeting is liable to go a tad longer than the 52 minutes of the last meeting. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Closed Session goes into overtime.
The city council is still discussing the performance evaluations (and probably salary adjustments) for the City Attorney and the City Manager. I’m not sure why they have David Kendig under Public Employment as he is a contract employee placed there by the city’s attorneys, Woodruff, Spradlin and Smart. If they are unhappy with Kendig’s performance (face it, he’s no Doug Holland), they only need to make a call.
First up under Presentations is our old friend TyRon Jackson. Jackson is being honored for his Operation Warm Wishes project. Jackson is active with the homeless community as well as Tustin at-risk youth. His efforts have helped hundreds of families and kids in the Tustin-Santa Ana area and this award is well-deserved.
On the Consent Calendar, the city council will be asked to approve a $24 thousand dollar expenditure for Willdan Homeland Solutions to provide tech support for the annual Emergency Operations Center exercise. Not much money but one wonders about the justification for single sourcing the contract.
I hope one of the councilmembers will pull Item 5, Resolution for Completion of the Newport Bike Trail, for comment. I have ridden a lot of bike trails in the county over the years and I always thought the Newport trail was a pretty good one. The new trail is absolutely beautiful and functional. If you haven’t ridden it, it’s worth the trip. The contractor came in $53 thousand under budget, to boot. Pat yourselves on the back, city council.
I take issue with the John Wayne Noise Abatement Quarterly Report, however. The noise level at Columbus Tustin School was reportedly well below government thresholds. Perhaps they should move the monitoring station to my house where it is considerably louder. It should be noted, the city council took the easy way out by supporting the extension to the operating agreements, supposedly for fear it would open a can of worms. Note to Al Murray: sometimes you just have to take a stand on principle.
Hopefully a member of the public with some sense will bring up discussion of Item 11, Comment Letter Draft on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. In short, the city council is supporting the governor’s ill proposed effort to tunnel under the Delta to provide water directly from the Sacramento River to Southern California. Never mind we have been stealing their water since the 1930’s the proposal laughingly purports to be a conservation effort for the Delta when, in fact, it is likely to do the opposite. The city, which obtains nearly half it’s water by theft, is jumping on the Governor’s band wagon. I wonder if they see a value in his high speed rail project as well?
The final item on the agenda is a request for travel by Councilman Chuck Puckett to attend the re-accreditation ceremony of the Tustin Police Department. I haven’t asked but I presume Chief Celano (who should have the department webmaster remove the “interim” from his page on the TPD website) will be attending as well. Congratulation, once again, to Chief Celano and the men and women of the Tustin Police Department.
I have a feeling this will be a council meeting worth watching. And, as it seems the Orange County Register is slowly crumbling into the dust, I may be your only source for true, accurate and highly biased information. That means I will have to step up my efforts. I think I can, I think I can…
What do the city of Carlsbad, the country of Saudi Arabia and Catalina Island have in common? They are all host to commercial water desalination plants. Saudi Arabia, in fact, obtains the majority of its water from the oceans. If Poseidon Water gets its way, they will have their foot in the door to do the same here in Orange County.
Poseidon Water, a major player in the water production industry, has been trying to build a desalination plant in Huntington Beach for the past 15 years. It looked like the process of permitting and planning was finally coming to a head with a recent hearing before the California Coastal Commission. Supposedly, these folks would have the final say as to whether Poseidon could go ahead with their plans.
The project has faced massive opposition from mainstream environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and Surfrider Foundation who say the project is a danger to marine life. One aspect of the proposal has the system using existing sea intakes which are soon to be outlawed by the state. So, even using those intakes would require a modification or change by the year 2020. The company has promised to review the issues raised at the hearing, attended by more than 300 people, and return with acceptable answers. “This project has taken us more than 15 years. we’re not going to just go away”, said Poseidon Vice President Scott Maloni.
Other environmental issues dogging the project concern location. Although the company is footing the bill for the initial construction through a so-called public-private partnership, they are relying on existing plant facilities for much of their infrastructure. The plant is slated to be built on the same property as the existing AES power generation plant. And, although their website claims they do not need the AES plant to generate their electricity needs, it is clear having ready made power nearby is an advantage. The Carlsbad facility which is operated by Poseidon is also built next to an electrical generation station. And, when the AES plant was scheduled to shutdown in 2018, we could presume the land would go to better uses (after cleanup). With Poseidon continuing to operate, the land would continue to be a blight on the coast.
In some ways, cost is as big a factor as the environment. Generating fresh water from seawater is power intensive and costly. According to Poseidon, who downplays the cost by putting it in terms of per-family, it will take 35 megawatts of power to run the desalinators. That’s a massive amount of electricity for the meager return from the plant. In fact, the single plant will supply only 8%% of the water needs of Orange County.
While that may seem like a significant amount, it will be at a significant cost to the consumer. Currently, water coming from conventional sources costs less than half the $2,000 per acre foot of desalinated water. Poseidon has a friend in local water companies to help them over the economic hurdle, however.
The Municipal Water District of Orange County is on board with desalination. “Continuing to invest in additional water sources such as ocean desalination, will be critical to both our
economy and sustaining Orange County’s growth,” touts their website, showing the same eight percent slice of the pie for desalinated water as Poseidon’s charts. If MWDOC contracts with Poseidon, Tustin, as a member agency, will have no choice but to foot the bill for the project. But, that’s OK because most of Tustin’s Councilmembers are on board with the idea even though many cities, including Los Angeles and Long Beach have shelved the idea of desalination in favor of cheaper and easier to obtain sources that include, (what will they think of next?) water conservation efforts. This isn’t surprising as the conservative majority of the council has long held that business interests, any business, take precedence over the needs and desires of the residents of our town Tustin.
MWDOC is also on board in other ways. They are a member of the Mesa Water District inspired CalDesal, a quasi-government inspired non-profit that promotes desalination efforts “in the Golden State”. Membership is limited to government agencies and water districts. Current membership, including MWDOC, is thirty-four. Associate members, almost all of whom are companies related to the water industry, number forty.
The economic risk, by the way, is with the consumer. If Poseidon is allowed to build their plant under current conditions, consumer agencies such as MWDOC have agreed to buy water from them regardless of whether they need it or not. That guarantee could cost consumers billions of dollars for up to 30 years. Thanks to lobbying efforts, the conservative board members of MWDOC and your city council have no problem spending your money to underwrite what should be a completely privatized effort. C’mon, where is that entrepreneurial spirit?
Although the California Coastal Commission has delayed their vote on the issue, it has not gone away and is not likely to, in the near future. Poseidon has vowed to return with answers to all of their questions and the MWDOC, as lead agency and promoter of desalination, will push to the end. At some point, it will be the Commission who must make the final decision. Some factions, such as Orange County Coastkeeper, an environmental group opposed to the project, have vowed to do what it takes to keep Poseidon from breaking ground.
It’s also interesting to note that the current Huntington Beach City Council, headed by Mayor Connie Boardman, attended the meeting to voice their opposition to the plant. Poseidon has promised 2,000 construction jobs, over a dozen permanent plant jobs and untold amounts of money coming into the city because of the project. Nonetheless, Boardman voiced the majority opinion of the city saying, “We wanted to make sure the costal commission knew the opinion of this city council was different.” Boardman would rather see investment in groundwater aquifiers which she sees as a better and less-costly alternative.
According to reports, there are more than a dozen desalination plants in the works along the coast. This could be the “energy” controversy of the 21st century much as nuclear energy was in the past. Although the ramifications may differ, the environmental concerns and future cost could make desalination yesterday’s buzzword.