By John Earl
OC Voice Editor
Based on information taken from a variety of sources, including the H.B. City Council Candidates Forum held on Sept. 18, as well as from Voice news stories, interviews and from campaign literature provided by the candidates.
Q. How would you solve the potential water shortage crisis in Huntington Beach and should ocean water be privatized for corporate profit? Is the Poseidon desalination plant (planned for southeast Huntington Beach) a good idea?
Kalmick: Conservation. Encourage but not mandate people to get rid of their lawns. Desalination for Huntington Beach is the wrong solution. The location is wrong and no one has offered to buy the water yet. Poseidon Inc. hasn’t successfully built a plant yet. Its Tampa Bay desalination plant went through two bankruptcies before the municipal water district had to take it over. And the H.B. plant would be twice the size. We don’t need it. Privatized water sets a bad precedent for water wars that are allegedly coming in the next 20 years. A 2007 Coastal Commission report raises questions about the project that Poseidon hasn’t answered. Electricity costs for running the plant are double what Poseidon said. Doesn’t make sense financially to build it.
Fact check: The Poseidon plant will be built with private funds, although the company seeks government subsidies in order to keep a lower price for the water it will sell.
Baylis: Educate the public about conserving water. People frequently water down their driveways in order to clean them off when a broom would do. Southern California is a desert and always will be a desert. Not certain that Poseidon is the right answer. Won’t support a project that doesn’t have the broad support of the public.
Hansen: We have to deal with water shortages. Groundwater replenishment and conservation haven’t been enough. We have to look for new resources, including desalination. Huntington Beach has shown some leadership in that area by being on the forefront of [that] source. Mr. Kalmick’s comments are flat out wrong. The Coastal Commission just approved a sister project in Carlsbad that’s almost exactly the same as the project that’s coming to Huntington Beach… We’re going to need the water. It’s not us building the plant, it’s all private investment. It makes sense to have a multipronged approach to your water policy. And unfortunately, this is the problem with a lot of our projects, misinformation.
Fact check: Although water shortage predictions for the state are dire and could affect the entire state directly or indirectly, Huntington Beach, which gets most of its water from ground wells, does not currently have a water shortage. And although conservation efforts have kept consumption at lower than 1990 levels, much more could be done. The Poseidon Carlsbad plant is not exactly the same, but similar. Water will be taken in from a lagoon, not directly from the ocean. Also, government subsidies will be used to keep water prices lower.
Kalmick’s remarks are essentially factual. As reported in the Voice (see “Poseidon’s Delay,” May, 2008), the Coastal Commission reported said that Poseidon had greatly under estimated the costs of running the plant. Water rates for desalinated water would be $1,500 – $2,000 at least, per acre-foot, according to most accepted estimates, not the $800 – $900-with government subsidies-claimed by Poseidon, which is still far higher than present water rates, about $450 per acre-foot. Even if the water doesn’t go to the city (no buyer has been announced), an infusion of more expensive water into the system will force rates higher for all. A much more cost-efficient and environmentally friendly type of desalination, which sucks water in from under the sea floor, is available, the report said. Also, a recent court ruling and legislative trends point to an end of the “once-through-cooling” technology associated with the outdated AES power plant that Poseidon would use to suck in ocean water and kills all marine organisms that pass through it. The report concluded that Poseidon’s proposed mitigation measures for environmental impact were inadequate.
Finally, although the Poseidon plant would be built with private funds, Poseidon’s track record in Tampa, as Kalmick points out, was one of failure, largely due to cost cutting measures that resulted in poor design and construction. There were two bankruptcies by firms that Poseidon subcontracted out to before the Tampa Bay Water Authority had to take control at huge cost to taxpayers. Presumably, the city of Huntington Beach would have no obligation to take over for Poseidon. Then Southeast H.B. residents would be saddled with the plant until another buyer or tax payer paid bailout comes along.
Brandt: Conservation is number one thing that we ought to be doing because it’s easy and saves everybody money. Water reclamation should be explored too. On private vs. public ownership of water: “It’s kind of like who owns the oil in the ground. Everything belongs to the public, the ocean and the oil. So it has to be captured through license fees and if the city facilitates that they have to charge a fee for it, like oil companies pay a fee.”
Dwyer: We do need to use different approaches and actually the city is looking into different approaches. On water privatization: “Does anybody think that the government runs anything better than we do? I mean, look at what’s going on today. It’s just amazing. We have a need for water. We have to solve that need. I was just driving up in Northern California across Lake Shasta. It’s down like 60 feet from its normal level. We have a problem and we need to solve it. If Poseidon is the answer then we need to get behind it.”
Fact check: Cities abroad and within the United States that have chosen to privatize their water systems often have later rejected it after encountering higher prices, inferior service and maintenance and less oversight and accountability.
Bohr: Conservation is the cheapest and easiest way. “Huntington Beach has a pretty good track record, plenty of room for improvement, but we use less water today than we did in 1990. Two-thirds of our water comes from groundwater, so we are lucky in that regard. But desal, conservation, taking the runoff and keeping it from going into the ocean, we have to do a multi-prong approach. There’s not just one answer. I disagree with everything Mr. Kalmick just said..It will produce 50 million gallons of drinking water per day at no risk to the city. In fact, the reports are that it will generate $67 million over the next 30 years and that it’s responsible and one of the prongs that we need to look at.
Fact check: See Hansen
CANDIDATE’S QUESTION #1 CANDIDATE’S QUESTION #2