Poseidon: The Garbage Barge of the Desalination Industry.


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Other companies have had success in other parts of the world, using the technique of sea-water desalination to provide water for the public in an environmentally and economically sound way, without becoming a burden on their hosts.  But Poseidon is like the garbage barge of the industry, endlessly drifting from coastal community to coastal community searching for a place to unload their rubbish and refuel at the public’s expense.

Tonight the Huntington Beach City Council will be looking again at their partnership with Poseidon. In 2006, the Council approved the construction of a seawater desalination plant to be operated in conjunction with the AES Huntington Beach Generating Station on Newland near Pacific Coast Highway.  That project never completed the approval process.

Under Poseidon’s current proposal, a portion of the project will be located on City-owned land adjacent to the HBGS site.  New approvals are needed for the project to proceed.  Let’s hope it doesn’t!

Sure, more fresh water might be nice, but there are other options.  For one thing, we do waste an awful lot.  Every day, the storm gutter in front of my house is full of sprinkler runoff from other houses “upstream”.  When it rains the bulk of the stormwater runs out to sea.  We could retain more of our rainwater.

And we could expand the Green Acres project which recycles wastewater for landscape irrigation.

But even if desalination were the only alternative, this deal with Poseidon is not the way to go.

Originally, Poseidon planned to use water also used for cooling the power plant.  But that option will soon end.  This past May 4, the California Water Resources Control Board  voted to phase out permits for “once-through cooling” of power plants.   Power plants will now be required to recirculate cooling water or utilize other means of cooling the plants.

A key factor in this decision was damage to marine life. This occurs due to “impingement” and “entrainment.” Marine life is trapped, or “impinged” on the screens designed to keep large objects out of the plants.  The force of the intake water can trap an organism against the screen, where it may asphyxiate, starve, be descaled, sustain other injuries or occasionally escape, much the worse for wear.  Smaller organism are “entrained” in the flow and destroyed in the plant.

The Water Resources Control Board studies estimate that once-through cooling at HBGS results in entrainment of 104 million to 345 million fish larvae per year, depending on flow, and impingement of 51,000 fish.   The eighteen coastal power plants statewide cause the entrainment death of 19.4 billion fish larvae per year.  In addition,  2.7 million fish per year fall victim to impingement.    And you wondered why seafood is so pricey these days!

Now that we’re finally saying “no more” to this colossal waste, here comes Poseidon seeking to use the old HBGS intake, continuing the damage and adding more, dumping concentrated brine and various industrial chemicals back into the ocean. Desalination plants elsewhere use alternatives, like beach wells, but not Poseidon.  Less profit in it.

Speaking of which, where will that profit come from?

Poseidon claims they are a completely private enterprise, operating without cost to the public.  Check their track record.

In 1999, West Coast Regional Water Supply Authority, now Tampa Bay Water, contracted Poseidon, which had no similar experience, to build and operate a desalination plant in Tampa Bay.  The project was plagued with problems, and Tampa Bay Water bought out Poseidon’s contract  when the plant was only half finished. Eventually the plant was completed, but  Tampa Bay had to hire American Water/ Pridesa to fix the plant.

Poseidon was issued permits to develop a desalination plant in Carlsbad. Free enterprise would build a plant and sell water to public agencies in northern San Diego County.  A great public/private partnership!  Except…   Poseidon got the California Debt Limit Allocation Committee to approve $530 million in tax free bonds for construction of the Carlsbad project.  These are funds normally used for things like housing for poor people, not profits for the prosperous.

And that’s not all.  Poseidon also got the Metropolitan Water District to pony up a $250 per acre-foot subsidy for the desalinated water.  That will add up to about $14 million per year, or $350 million over the twenty five year length of the subsidy.  Jeffrey Kightlinger, MWD general manager, estimates that the program will add between $10 and $20 a month to the average southern Californian’s water bill.  That’s ALL of us, whether or not we use or want the water from Poseidon’s Carlsbad plant—if the plant is ever built.  Even with tax free bonds, financing has become tricky.

By the way, Global Water Intelligence, an industry publication, estimates that as of June 2009, Poseidon had less than a dozen employees, so that $350 million works out to a $30 million subsidy per employee. Talk about economic stimulus! Now Poseidon has its “free enterprise” foot in the door in Huntington Beach where their current project would be built partially on publicly owned land. What’s next?

Let’s not let these characters “tie up” in Huntington Beach!


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