Geever and Everts on the future of California Desal, post-Poseidon.

In the wake of the people’s victory over the Poseidon $1.4 Billion Desalination Boondoggle, John Earl’s’ SoCalWaterWars (previously Surf City Voice) has published essays by two of the most prominent anti-Poseidon fighters – Joe Geever and Conner Everts – which we cross-post here:

Post-Poseidon: To desalinate or not to desalinate, that is NOT the main question!

The future of good water management depends on understanding the complexities of climate change, not simplistic ‘solutions’

By Joe Geever, June 15, 2022. Geever fought against the Huntington Beach and Carlsbad ocean desalination projects going back 20 years. He was the Southern California Coordinator for the Surfrider Foundation and a spokesperson for Residents for Responsible Desal. And he was a professional fisherman from 1970 to 1989.

The California Coastal Commission sunk Poseidon Water’s proposed Huntington Beach ocean desalination project on May 12 by an 11-0 vote.

NOW what role should ocean desalination play in California’s future?

Executive Director Jack Ainsworth told commissioners that the staff’s recommended project denial didn’t preclude building other coastal desalination plants.

“First of all,” he said, alluding to climate change, “I think we all agree and recognize that the ongoing historical drought is a crisis in California and that desalinization facilities will be part of California’s future water portfolio.”

Some of my environmentalist friends say that ocean desalination should never be part of California’s water portfolio.

Others support the proposed Doheny ocean desalination plant and the existing plant serving the City of Santa Barbara, both small projects, as alternatives to Poseidon’s proposal, a would-be $1.4 billion boondoggle and environmental catastrophe.

But Poseidon VP Scott Maloni calls the Pacific Ocean the “largest reservoir in the world” and sees ocean desalination as an important future water source for adapting to climate change—along with dams, canals, tunnels, and other “tools in the toolbox.”

“We have to keep providing the quality of life that we’ve all come to enjoy here. And we need to build [to do that],” Maloni told the EPOCH Times last September.

The 20th Century, and the growth of the Industrial Age, is an amazing feat of human creativity. We’ve developed a world of safety and comfort that would have been unimaginable prior to the technological wizardry. But it’s clearly not that simple. Climate change forces us to re-think the costs and benefits of the technological age.

The Poseidon proposal and its rejection by the Coastal Commission showed that for every complex problem there’s always a simplistic solution that is wrong.

But both proponents and opponents of ocean desalination tend to offer overly-simplistic solutions for adapting to climate change.  

The problems of providing water and energy in the future are complex. We need to define those problems accurately in order to find the right solutions.

Water and Climate Change

Despite desal proponents’ claims, climate change isn’t just about more intense “drought.” Historical precipitation records clearly show that Californians have always lived with spatial and temporal challenges.

Spatially, California gets more precipitation in the north but we’ve developed more demand in the south.

The temporal challenge is that on a ten-year average we have always had less than “average” precipitation in seven or eight years and far more than “average” in two or three years.

So we developed massive infrastructure to capture and store water from the north in the “wet” years and move it from north to south for agriculture and massive population centers.

But historical records also show that climate change doesn’t change the basic precipitation pattern, it exacerbates it; that is, “dry” periods will be even drier and “wet” periods even wetter (but more in the form of rain than snow). But on a 10-year average, precipitation will be in about the same volumes.

So we need to re-think how and when we move water, and how we store it, in order to get a reasonable idea of the volume of water we could use annually based on a ten-year average in the future.

But some adaptations are clearly needed now:

Read the rest of Joe’s important essay on SoCalWaterWars!

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And now, Conner Everts!

Post-Poseidon: A better blueprint for the future of ocean desalination in California

Future desalination projects should be transparent, environmentally friendly and just, and needed.

By Conner Everts, June 20, 2022. Conner Everts has fought against Poseidon Water’s proposed and now denied $1.4 billion ocean desalination project for 20 years. He is is Facilitator for the Environmental Water CaucusExecutive Director of the Southern California Watershed Alliance and co-chair of the Desal Response Group. He is chair of Public Officials for Water and Environmental Reform (POWER) as well as on the board of other organizations, including Amigos de Los Rios. He co-chairs and moderates the Southern California Water Dialogue and the Green LA Water Committee Coalition

When the California Coastal Commission’s executive director, Jack Ainsworth, gave staff’s final rebuttal to Poseidon Water’s failed plea for approval of its proposed Huntington Beach ocean desalination plant (May 12), he proposed a blueprint that State regulators could use to evaluate future desalination proposals:

“In my view, the State of California needs to conduct a comprehensive siting survey to identify the best locations for future desal facilities around the state, identifying the sites that are safe from sea-level rise, flooding, seismic hazards and are designed to minimize impacts on ocean and coastal resources, and that are sized appropriately for the locations. And, these sites should be prioritized based on the critical need of the new water supplies for a particular area. In addition, all other less environmentally damaging and less expensive water supply alternatives should be explored first, or at least concurrently with desal alternatives.”

Ainsworth’s plan is a start, but it needs more details to protect against the kind of blatant misinterpretations of State environmental rules and regulations that allowed Poseidon to push the project for twenty years while gaming the system and blaming its self-inflicted delays on environmentalists.

Here’s my 11-point proposal: an upfront checklist that would be completed before any ocean desalination project would come before the state for permits. It would require, unlike Poseidon’s Huntington Beach project proposal, a completely transparent process from start to finish:

  1. NEED.
  2. ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE.
  3. COST.
  4. Greenhouse Gas & Climate Change.
  5. Imported Water Offsets
  6. New Development
  7. Fisheries & Marine Environmental Impacts
  8. The Future.
  9. Public vs. Private?
  10. SCALE.
  11. Will Ocean Desalination Even Work?

See these 11 concerns fleshed out on SoCalWaterWars!!!

About Surf City Voice

John Earl is the editor of the Surf City Voice. Frequent contributor Debbie Cook, a former Huntington Beach Mayor, is board president of the Post Carbon Institute.