Desalination Deal Protects Taxpayers
Ocean desalination is an urgent necessity for Orange County. As California faces mandatory water restrictions for the first time in history, we need to be pursuing all of our options. I often hear versions of the question, “How will Orange County protect itself from this systemic water crisis?”
As a scientist, doctor and father, desal is a commonsense answer. It’s really a no-brainer. We’re blessed with an abundant water source (the Pacific Ocean) at our doorstep, so let’s tap it. But, as an elected official representing the public, I know that it’s imperative to also contemplate costs and taxpayer risk.
The proposed desalination facility in Huntington Beach has more than adequately addressed these concerns.
On May 14, the Orange County Water District Board of Directors will consider the framework for an agreement with the desal project owner, Poseidon Water, to purchase the water from the proposed facility. The agreement is a true public-private partnership and achieves significant taxpayer protections, including:
• The taxpayer, via local government agencies, would control every drop produced by the plant, ensuring a drought-proof supply.
• The average household would pay only a couple dollars more per month for this reliability.
• Poseidon would assume all risk and liability for the plant; the taxpayers owe nothing if Poseidon doesn’t produce water.
• Poseidon would be responsible for 100 percent of the construction, operation and maintenance costs.
• Orange County’s water ratepayers, via OCWD, would receive the plant for $1 at the conclusion of the agreement.
These are significant taxpayer protections, and OCWD staff should be applauded for negotiating these provisions.
Importantly, the proposed agreement also ensures we have a little skin in the game. After all, we must be partners to achieve water reliability. So the agreement calls for OCWD to build the pipe that moves the water from the facility to the people. The construction of public water delivery systems is what local districts do best. So this is a reasonable approach that also reduces the cost of water from the desal facility.
This is a dire time for California. This drought is unlike anything we’ve seen. So we, as a state, need to conserve more; we need more recycled water; we need statewide infrastructure, like the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan; we need more places to store water in wet years to accommodate for prolonged dry periods; and yes, we need desalination.
This “all of the above” approach is needed for a sustainable 21st century water strategy.
On May 14, we need to move forward with the Huntington Beach desal facility. The OCWD Board of Directors should approve the proposed terms of agreement to advance this taxpayer-friendly and scientifically sound project to the next stage of contract negotiations.
Allan Bernstein is a Tustin councilman who chairs the Association of California Cities’ Orange County Water Committee and Orange County for Water Independence, Sustainability and Efficiency. He is a member of the Orange County Water District’s Ocean Desalination Citizens Advisory Committee.