A strong turnout is expected at today’s meeting of the Orange County Water District board, where board members are slated to move forward with their consideration of a proposed ocean desalination plant in Huntington Beach.
The project, which would be operated by the private firm Poseidon Resources, would convert about 100 million gallons per day of seawater into 50 million gallons of drinkable water for local residents and businesses.
Proponents argue it would provide a much-needed local water source if imported water supplies are reduced, while opponents criticize it as an unnecessary, environmentally-damaging project that costs far more than other alternatives.
At their 5:30 p.m. meeting today, the OCWD’s board is scheduled to hold their first discussion of negotiation points that could ultimately lead to a 50-year contract to buy Poseidon’s water.
Under those draft negotiations points, known as a term sheet, the water district would pay Poseidon 120 percent of the price of treated imported water from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, plus additional fees that currently cost about $80 to $90 per acre-foot.
An acre foot is considered to be what two typical households use in a year.
After 10 years, the price would be 115 percent of MWD’s rate plus the other charges, and would eventually scale down to MWD’s rate after 40 years.
Additionally, OCWD would be responsible for building a distribution system, including a pipeline, to get the water from Poseidon’s plant to local water agencies.
That distribution system has a tentative estimate of $70 million to $90 million to build, which would be funded by the public agencies.
If board members proceed tonight, the term sheet would be discussed in more detail at three public meetings in late March and April of a citizens advisory committee.
Half of the 20-member committee is comprised of the water district’s board members, and the other half were appointed by the board.
The term sheet would then come back to the water district’s board on April 30 for a vote on whether to approve the negotiations framework.
The project appears to have at least tentative support from OCWD’s board, given their January decision to start negotiations with Poseidon.
Debbie Cook, a former mayor of Huntington Beach who opposes the project, says she expects an overflow crowd at tonight’s meeting, given the turnout at a recent town hall meeting on the issue.
“Orange County water district doesn’t need that water. If they manage the groundwater basin properly and got more water during wet times, then that is our insurance,” she said Tuesday.
Cook points to statements by Irvine Ranch Water District board member Peer Swan, who has said that pumping less from North County’s groundwater basin during wet years would provide water reliability at a lower cost than Poseidon.
OCWD’s lead staff member on the Poseidon project, John Kennedy, said that Swan’s approach is a “reasonable management strategy,” but also assumes that imported water supplies would be face reductions just once every five years.
“The question just becomes, how often are the dry cycles going to hit us” and whether the basin is big enough to store enough water to last through those dry cycles, said Kennedy, the water district’s executive director of engineering and local resources.
A water reliability study is currently underway at the Municipal Water District of Orange County, which will look at the imported water system and whether Orange County can always count on it, he added.
Poseidon’s president, Scott Maloni, didn’t return a phone message seeking comment.
OCWD’s board meeting starts Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. at their headquarters: 18700 Ward Street, Fountain Valley (map).