Officials with the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board say board member Linda Ackerman didn't participate in a permit hearing Dec. 9 because of a possible perception of bias due to her position at two regional water agencies that have supported the project.
Ackerman recused herself from a hearing on a pollutant discharge permit for Poseidon Resources' proposed Huntington Beach desalination facility, though she didn't publicly explain why.
"My understanding is that it was based on potential bias related to the project, given that she is on the Metropolitan Water District board," said Kurt Berchtold, the executive officer of the regional water board. MWD sent a letter supporting the project.
The Metropolitan Water District is the largest water agency in Southern California, and Ackerman in on its board as a representative from the Municipal Water District of Orange County. The Orange County district also submitted a letter supporting the project's permit.
Berchtold said another reason for Ackerman's recusal was that the Orange County district would be involved in purchasing or distributing water from the desalination plant.
State regulations require that certain officials publicly explain their conflicts of interest when recusing themselves, but board attorney David Rice said those rules don't apply to regional water board members.
Rice added that "there was no conflict of interest" in this instance, and it was "simply out of an abundance of caution that she recused herself."
Linda Ackerman's other connection to Poseidon is her husband, former state Sen. Dick Ackerman, who is a partner at Nossaman, a law firm Poseidon consulted about permits for the project.
Representatives of the Poseidon project and Nossaman said the firm hasn't represented Poseidon since December 2009.
Nossaman's hiring of Dick Ackerman was announced in a February 2009 news release. The firm's website states he "assists clients in dealing with government and special districts on how to get through the political process."
Rice, the water board's attorney, said Dick Ackerman's job at Nossaman is "absolutely not" a conflict of interest for his wife's regional water board position.
Linda Ackerman declined to comment.