Desalination: Separating Fact from Fiction

Scott Maloni, VP Poseidon Resources In the short period that I have come to know OC Coastkeeper Executive Director Garry Brown, I have found him to be a passionate and pragmatic advocate for the coastal environment. While we don’t agree on seawater desalination and our Huntington Beach project, his arguments mostly have been f


Scott Maloni, VP Poseidon Resources

In the short period that I have come to know OC Coastkeeper Executive Director Garry Brown, I have found him to be a passionate and pragmatic advocate for the coastal environment. While we don’t agree on seawater desalination and our Huntington Beach project, his arguments mostly have been factual, and he has handled himself professionally and respectfully. Unfortunately, in his recent opinion piece, “Desalination plant will cost more than GWRS” (Sounding Off, Nov. 29), Brown has resorted to disseminating misinformation about Poseidon and the project.

Brown’s comparison between the cost of seawater desalination and the Ground Water Replenishment System (GWRS) is disingenuous. The H.B. desalination plant is being built to offset Orange County’s demand for more expensive and less reliable imported water, not to replace or compete with GWRS. There is no single, “silver bullet” water supply solution, which is why local water managers who are advocates of GWRS are also supporting seawater desalination. In addition, the cost of producing water at the H.B. plant is $1,100 an acre foot, not the “$2,000 to $3,000” he asserts.

While Brown extols the technology behind the GWRS project, he castigates Poseidon for using “50-year-old technology … in effect trading electricity for water.” Brown fails to disclose that the desalination plant’s treatment process is virtually identical to the GWRS and that every modern, large-scale plant uses the same technology proposed by Poseidon in H.B.

Brown then falls back to attacking Poseidon’s record in Tampa Bay, Fla., suggesting that Poseidon “had to be removed from plant operations and replaced by a public agency.” Brown knows better, or at least he should. In fact, Tampa Bay Water exercised its contractual right and bought Poseidon out one year into project construction. At the time the plant was on time, 30% complete, and on budget. By Tampa Bay Water’s account, the problems occurred after Poseidon left the project. Again, this history is well documented in public records and newspaper reports.

Finally, Brown intentionally confuses the project’s construction financing and wrongly suggests we have broken our promise to privately finance the project and shield the ratepayers from development risk. In Carlsbad, the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) is providing our public water agencies with a $250-per-acre-foot incentive to buy water from our Carlsbad project and, in doing so, is reducing dependence on imported water. This same incentive has been applied to the GWRS. The MWD funds are for the purchase of desalination water, only if delivered, and not for the financing of project construction.

As seawater desalination projects advance in San Diego and Orange County, the fevered pitch from opponents desperate to stop the inevitable will reach a crescendo. While a public debate over seawater desalination is healthy, the test for all involved revolves around credibility. When credibility and accountability are given a back seat to political agendas that distort the truth, no one wins.

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