The proposed Poseidon desalination plant in Huntington Beach would drive up water bills, harming poor Orange County ratepayers without providing any water quality or reliability benefits, concludes a new study by UCLA’s Luskin Center for Innovation.
“While potential positive HRW [human right to water] benefits from desalinated ocean water can occur in certain contexts, we find that no such benefits can be plausibly realized by the Poseidon agreement in Orange County,” states the report’s executive summary. “Nearly all of the county’s households are connected to community water systems which already provide high-quality, reliable water service and thus would not see supply improvement from ocean desalination. Those served by the county’s small underperforming systems, whose lower-quality water might be improved through new desalinated supply, will not be served by the proposed agreement to purchase desalinated water. The only plausible impact of agreement water on disadvantaged households in the county will be a decrease in affordability due to higher system rates.”
The UCLA findings were immediately trumpeted by Azul, which has joined fellow equity groups such as Oak View ComUNIDAD and OC Earth Stewards in arguing the plant’s billion dollar price tag would ultimately harm low-income ratepayers.
“Local residents from communities like Oak View and Santa Ana have been fighting this project for years, and the UCLA study confirms their concerns that the plant’s big price tag will be passed on to ratepayers that can ill afford another $5 to $7 on their monthly water bill” says Azul’s Marce Gutierrez-Graudins in an email. “Working class families in Orange County are already struggling with the high cost of living—they don’t need this billion dollar boondoggle to stretch their budgets further.”
“This project is being driven by corporate profits, rather than community needs,” says Victor Valladares of Oak View ComUNIDAD in the same email. “It is the job of local and state agencies to protect the interests of residents and ratepayers, and we will continue urging government and utility leaders to resist Poseidon’s lobbying and block construction of this Wall Street water project.”
The UCLA report follows a recent independent analysis by the Municipal Water District of Orange County that found there are far more affordable ways to keep up with projected water demand–including recycling and storing rainwater–than a Poseidon plant in Surf City. (See my column A Clockwork Orange: “Tap Dance.”)
The Poseidon’s proposal still must be approved by the Santa Ana Regional Water Board and the California Coastal Commission. Meanwhile, the project permit granted by the State Lands Commission last October is being challenged in court on grounds the panel failed to consider whether the water is needed, how it will be distributed and the full range of environmental impacts.
OC Weekly Editor-in-Chief Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the alternative newsweekly’s first calendar editor.