OCWD profile #1: Phil Anthony, the quiet skeptic.

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"We could build a desal plant faster, better, and cheaper than Poseidon."  - Director Phil Anthony.

“We could build a desal plant faster, better, and cheaper than Poseidon.” – Director Phil Anthony.

Ten people, ten men and women, elected either onto the OC Water District Board or onto some city council and APPOINTED onto that board, are going to decide very soon whether or not to saddle this county with Poseidon’s very expensive water for 50 years while wreaking havoc on the coast of Huntington Beach.  These men and women have names and faces, we should get to know them.  We should try to get some of them on record, as to what might influence them to make this gigantic commitment for us or not.  So I guess my work is cut out for me.

The first guy I sat down with, at Huntington Beach’s swell Sweet Elle Cafe, is the very genial and avuncular Director Phil Anthony.  The guy MUST be older than he looks – he’s in his SIXTH DECADE of public service in the OC, having first been elected to Westminster City Council in 1962, serving there for 15 years before getting a term as an OC Supervisor, and now the Water District representative for Huntington Harbor, Seal Beach, Westminster, Los Alamitos and Rossmoor … since 19-freaking-81.  How many times does that mean he was elected by his loyal (or apathetic) constituents?  He’s not sure – I count nine four-year terms.

You gotta ask a guy like that, what have been the high points in your 34 years on the water board?  What are you most proud of?  And it’s not a surprise that he first brings up our celebrated Groundwater Replenishment System.  He tells us that the first expansion of the GWRS is physically done now and should be operational by next month, providing us with 100 million gallons a day of inexpensive, pure, recycled water.  Then he reaches back in his memory to 1976 and tells of OCWD’s smaller “Water Factory 21,” a similar but more primitive plant they built in reaction to a drought back in the days of disco and quaaludes.  [Begun before but finished during his tenure.]

On the dais, in regards to Poseidon, Phil has been rather cryptic and noncommital, unlike Director Jan Flory who hit the Board last year like a bull in a china shop with such unheard-of heretical comments as “If we are taking on all the risk, then what do we need Poseidon for?”  When Jan does get a second, whether on transparency or exploring alternatives to Poseidon, it generally comes from Phil – but then when the votes come, all the little baby steps toward making this project inevitable, Phil votes right along with the rest, despite the occasional wry zinger like last month’s “So, the cost of Poseidon’s water … that’s just one of those minor issues we’ll figure out later?”

Listening to all the problems he sees with the draft term sheet, it’s hard to picture him voting to move forward on it.  But he doesn’t want to say right now that he’s going to vote no:  “I am trying to keep an open mind;  I feel they deserve to be heard.”  I tell him he should be more vocal on the dais about his criticisms and reservations.  “There are new people on the Board who seem overwhelmed by all the new information [Reyna, Nguyen] and they need to hear all your criticisms and know that Flory’s not just some cranky outlier.”

Phil sees the Poseidon water as being unnecessarily expensive, and also finds it nonsensical and manipulative for Poseidon’s project to be marketed as a solution to our current drought.  “Even if they got all the green lights they want, they wouldn’t be online for nearly five years.  By then this drought will either be long over, or we’ll all be dead … or moved to somewhere with water.”

“Building a desal plant is really not what the OCWD is supposed to be about, we are supposed to be about taking care of the Santa Ana Aquifer.  But still, we could do it.  With our triple A credit, we could finance a desalination plant much cheaper than Poseidon could, and we would use the best and latest technology.   You’ve seen our Groundwater Replenishment System, Vern.  We could do a desal plant better, faster and cheaper than Poseidon.”  That’s the kind of talk I’d like to hear more of on the dais, at meetings.

So, that’s Phil.  Punxsutawney Phil.  We’ll be chatting with more Board members as the vote nears.  Is it possible, despite all the air of inevitability, despite all Poseidon’s twelve years of tireless lobbying and political contributions, that five of these men and women will listen to logic and their constituents and just say no?  We shall see soon!

 poseidon question

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.