Poseidon progress report: Eight ways to screw the public!




soaky no legs

Talk about dripping incrementalization.

At the last OCWD meeting Feb. 3, long-suffering hardworking staff did as they were instructed to by the politicians on their Board, coming back with and reporting on eight different schemes for distributing Poseidon’s expensive, unwanted, desalinated water across various swaths of the north county.

Ranging in price from $107 million to $305 million – because we the taxpaying ratepayers will be on the hook for building the distribution system – options 1a, 1b, 1c, 1d, 2a, 2b, 3 and 4 involved scenarios ranging from:

  • building new pipelines, injection wells, and pump stations, all the way up the Aquifer from HB to Anaheim, to yes, pump all that expensive desal water back into the ground …

to …

  • selling directly to water “producers” (the smaller districts across the county) – who have not yet shown much interest in this overpriced water, except in development-crazed SOI (South Of Irvine), and will also need plenty of taxpayer-provided pipelines and pumps.

Incrementalization,” we call that, when we tell the authorities, “No, we don’t want to get screwed,” and the authorities respond “Yes, yes, we hear you;  now let’s have a dialogue on exactly HOW you will be getting screwed – this way or that way, or would you prefer this other way?”  And the “whether or not” disappears by design. 

Several speakers (all but two of whom were anti-Poseidon), and one of the three anti-Poseidon OCWD members, decried the lack of an Option 5 – a “Hey, how about we take care of our water needs WITHOUT Poseidon’s dubious help?” option.  The establishment’s strategy is to treat this boondoggle as a done deal, and make opposition to it seem fringe, nutty, irresponsible.  But a funny and dramatic thing happened on the way to the end of the slide show:

“Dude, where’s my Demand?”

Director Dewane now has a special toothy sneer he uses while listening to speakers he thinks little of, but we haven't caught it on camera yet. Has he had dental work that he is showing off?

Director Dewane now has a special toothy sneer he uses while listening to speakers he thinks little of, but we haven’t caught it on camera yet. Has he had dental work that he is showing off?

Suddenly board member and Poseidon dead-ender Shawn Dewane (left) was up in arms, soon to be followed by his equally zealous colleagues Steve Sheldon and Cathy Green.  What were these worthies so upset about?  They were upset about the second purple column, on the right, on the two charts below, showing what our water agencies estimate to be the area’s water demand twenty years from now.  And they were upset because it was so LOW!  Much lower than they had always thought!  435,000 Acre Feet?  They wanted to see at least  448,000, even 500,000 would be great!

Wait, shouldn’t it be a GOOD thing that our future water demand is lower than many expected?  No, not for water officials who have somehow equated their own interests with that of Poseidon Resources; it’s hell of BAD for them, because it makes it MUCH HARDER to convince the public that this desal plant is necessary.  So they bitched and bellyached and remonstrated with staff, but to no avail – 435,000 was a solid well-founded figure taken from MWDOC (Municipal Water District of OC.)

Debbie Cook has been pointing out for years – and wrote about it on this blog last March – that due to laziness, habit and a general bias in favor of endless growth, most water districts including our own have nearly always estimated future water demand WAY on the high end.  Wrote Deb, “nationwide, urban water consumption is responding to practices that are driving down per capita consumption, including the price of water, frequency of billing, changing demographics, housing types, the extent of adoption of efficient technologies, conservation, and the effect of education and public attitude.”

The two charts below, the first leaving out Poseidon’s water and the second including it, make it clear that we don’t need Poseidon now, and while we’ll probably need a little more water by 2036, better solutions will be available by then.

poseidon octa projected demand

poseidon ocwd projected 2

And yes, San Diego IS dumping Poseidon water.

Many of us, including the three Poseidon skeptics on the Board (Anthony, Yoh, Flory) have made the commonsense suggestion that we at least wait a few years to see how things shake out with Poseidon’s comparable plant just recently come on line down in Carlsbad.  Not so much to see if the mechanics works out to convert sea to fresh water, as the many other things that could go wrong, economically and environmentally, that could make San Diego regret its decision and give us pause.

Water-glutted San Diego has been dumping its expensive Poseidon water into this lovely reservoir near Chula Vista, where it'll someday have to be treated again.

Water-glutted San Diego has been dumping its expensive Poseidon water into this lovely reservoir near Chula Vista, where it’ll someday have to be treated again.

Sure enough, as the Voice of San Diego reported last week in an article called “San Diego’s Oversupply of Water Reaches a New Absurd Level” (which we also discussed here), our unfortunate, suddenly-water-glutted, neighboring county has been dumping Poseidon water into the Otay Lake reservoir, where it’ll have to be treated again some day – and they can’t tell Poseidon to turn off the spigot because they signed a “take-or-pay” contract with them, where they have to pay for the water when they need it and when they don’t – the same sort of contract most of our OCWD Board is eager to sign US onto!

Several speakers brought this up at the meeting, and when Poseidon VP Scott Maloni – one of the only two pro-Poseidon speakers – came to the stand, he dismissed the story in a disingenuous and nonsensical way, by pointing out that San Diego still continues to take their water.  Which of course San Diego is required to do.

Let us not go down San Diego’s path.

The Vast Distance from Democracy

weeping libertyA decision this big, like, say, whether or not to build a billion-dollar plant on our shore, near an earthquake fault and right in the path of expected sea level rise, tearing up six to ten miles of HB streets for the new gargantuan pipelines at hundreds of millions of taxpayer expense, and committing to buy this expensive water for fifty years when we need it and when we don’t, while killing 80 million fish larvae a day, creating a dead zone of brine along our beach, and pumping epic amounts of greenhouse gases into the sky …  do you think a decision that big should be made by We The People of HB and OC, or by our trusted representatives behind the scenes?

Just sayin’, cuz you should really check out some of these “trusted representatives.”  I get the argument for representative democracy, but these men and women are not all the impartial, publicly-minded “experts” you might assume, and to a large extent most of them don’t give a damn what you and I think.  A little bit of time and study and most of us could understand as much about water policy as these politicians and water officials do.  Main difference being, you and I never got campaign contributions, wined, dined, and our butts kissed, by Poseidon Resources, which has spent $50 million on lobbying for this project over the last dozen years.   (Just assume that every politician listed below has enjoyed the company’s largesse, it’s hard to find a pro-Poseidon politician that hasn’t.)

HB council true believers.

HB council true believers Hansen, Bohr, Coerper and Green.

EXHIBIT ONE – the Huntington Beach City Councils of 2005 and 2010.   By 2012 and ’14, Surf City voters had wised up and elected more honest and accountable councils which would have given the water pirates their walking papers, but by then it was too late – kleptocrats like Keith Bohr, Don Hansen and Cathy Green (now on OCWD) and clueless GOP followers like Joe Carchio, Devin Dwyer and Gil Coerper had given away the keys to the beach for campaign contributions and a few promises to the town that are now reneged on.

EXHIBIT TWO – the California Coastal Commission – all appointees, whom we had thought of as possibly our last line of defense, as it’s up to them whether or not to okay Poseidon’s sealife-slaughtering open intakes when they come back to them in May complaining that the preferred subsurface intakes are “infeasible” (i.e. will eat into Poseidon’s profits unacceptably.)  This Commission is tasked with protecting the coast, NOT with encouraging development and construction jobs, but Governor Brown’s four appointees have made a mockery of their environmental mandate, and it’s got to be a bad sign that the Commission has just fired its very conscientious and independent Executive Director Charles Lester, over great public outcry.  And nobody doubts that Poseidon’s lobbying accomplished that coup.

EXHIBIT THREE – four of our five County Supervisors (all but Andrew Do, whom I have to thank and question) who just had to take a break from their regular regimen of misrule when they heard about the drop in anticipated water demand discussed above, and, at the behest of the most un-rocket-scientist-like Supervisor Michelle Steele, re-affirmed their support for the boondoggle at last week’s meeting.  Gee thanks Shawn, Todd, Michelle and Lisa, now BUTT OUT.

The Poseidon Seven, from the OCWD Board. Top row - 2014 campaign lucre recipients Nguyen, Sheldon and Dewane. Bottom row - fellow travellers Bilodeau, Sidhu, Reyna and Green.

OCWD’s Poseidon Seven, who approved last year’s term sheet. Top row – 2014 campaign lucre recipients Nguyen, Sheldon and Dewane. Bottom row – fellow travellers Bilodeau, Sidhu (now replaced by Brandman), Reyna and Green.

The OC Water District, fulfilling the essential role of “who will actually agree to BUY this unneeded water.” is an especially frustrating group.  And I fear the feeling is mutual – they have had to get accustomed to being mobbed by angry citizens the last couple of years.  FOUR of these directors are APPOINTED by the city councils they sit on (or sat on at the time of their appointment.)   We got lucky when Fullerton sent us Jan Flory;  much less so when Orange sent us the VERY in-Poseidon’s-pocket Denis Bilodeau or when Santa Ana sent us the painfully out-of-his-depth Roman Reyna.  Anaheim just recently replaced Poseidon dead-ender Harry Sidhu with Jordan Brandman (Mayor Tait would have preferred the honest conservative James Vanderbilt, but as usual he was outvoted by Anaheim’s kleptos.)  It’s hard to have higher-than-abysmal expectations for Jordan, for those of us who have watched him for a number of years, but Ms. Flory councils patience and forbearance, and says she will explain things to him.  (We hope she is more persuasive than Sharon Quirk-Silva was when SHE tried to talk sense into Jordan on district sequencing.)

The other SIX of these directors are ELECTED every two years to four-year overlapping terms;  in 2014 despite the efforts of us Davids, the Goliath Poseidon got all three of their candidates in soundly – Shawn Dewane, Steve Sheldon, and Dina Nguyen, the latter who’d promised to keep a skeptical mind about Poseidon, but immediately fell into line after being elected MOSTLY with Poseidon money laundered through Dave Gilliard’s CA HOA.  How many of the tiny minority of OC citizens who bothered to vote on these races knew they were voting for Poseidon, or knew much about that issue?  Surely not most.

This year three more are up for re-election, and two of them are Poseidon skeptics who can probably expect the company to run someone against them – the honest Roger Yoh (representing Buena Park, La Palma, Placentia, Yorba Linda & parts of Cypress) and good old Phil Anthony (representing Seal Beach, Huntington Harbour, Westminster and western Garden Grove.)  Phil, whom we interviewed here last year, has been a public servant in this county since the 1960’s and isn’t sure if he’ll run again.  But we can’t afford to lose another Poseidon skeptic from the Board, WE NEED TWO MORE.

cathy green poutingFinally, Poseidon has no better friend in government than former HB councilwoman and current OCWD chairwoman Cathy Green, who has had the opportunity to roll out red carpets for her patrons several times and has never let them down.  While OCWD was assuring us that their approval of a term sheet was just “tentative” and “not set in stone,”  Chairwoman Cathy was out at Coastal Commission assuring them that Poseidon DID have a buyer, OCWD.  Somehow this lady just keeps getting elected, but we can only hope that somebody brilliant runs against her this time around.

From the talk at February 3’s meeting, this incrementalization will continue till a year from June before it really hits a point of no return.  Let’s hope that Jan Flory is right that she can change two minds on the board, and let’s do our best to get Roger and Phil re-elected and Cathy defeated.  Any other brilliant suggestions?  We are all ears.

poseidon greed

OC Weekly’s depiction of the deity.


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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.