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Last week, when Garden Grove council members scheduled discussion of a letter opposing a proposed desalination plant in Huntington Beach by the Boston-based company Poseidon Resources, dozens of residents, environmentalists and activists turned out to sing the praises of a city council with the chutzpah to take on the controversial project.

“You’re the only city in the county that has really looked at this and spent time and analyzed this — which is not an easy thing because there’s quite a tidal wave of support by whatever campaign contributions that are pushing this project,” Irvine Ranch Water District Director Peer Swan told Garden Grove council members last Tuesday.

But the anti-Poseidon activists left the meeting frustrated and angry, after council members, some reluctant to address the issue at all, voted 4-1 to continue the item for a vote at the next meeting. The only vote in favor of  approving the letter came from Mayor Bao Nguyen, who was the one who called for it in the first place.

Councilman Phat Bui, who said he doesn’t know enough to make up his mind about the project, asked staff to rewrite the letter to tone down its outright opposition to the desalination plant and express more general “concerns” with the terms of the 50-year deal and its impacts.

Councilman Steve Jones said he also wasn’t informed enough and felt it was out of character for the council to “get out ahead” of issues and be the first and only city to speak out against the Poseidon plant.

“They claimed to not have enough information. Well if they were reading the staff report, the newspapers, the blogs, or heck, even my social media posts, they would be somewhat informed,” Garden Grove resident Josh McIntosh wrote on a community Facebook page after the meeting.

Garden Grove convened a panel of local experts in May to discuss the benefits and impacts of the desalination plant, although many complained that the panel was skewed against the project.

Amid a historic statewide drought, proponents of the plant say it will provide crucial water resources — 56,000 additional acre-feet of water per year, or 12 percent of the district’s total water demands — to a ever growing population.

Supplies of water imported from MWD and pumped from OCWD’s groundwater basin, the latter which has been over drafted in recent years, are “on the verge of being significantly reduced,” wrote OCWD Director of Engineering and Water Resources John Kennedy in a letter to the city council.

Meanwhile, opponents of the plant say it will do harm to the coastal environment and cause water bills to skyrocket.

Although the resolution would have no impact on the water district’s decision, Poseidon urged council members to wait nine months for finalized details about the total cost of the project and a water purchase agreement, before they decide to support or oppose the project.

Many Garden Grove residents who oppose the desalination plant cite increased water bills.

According to the staff report, the average residential water bill in Garden Grove (which bills every two months) would increase by $6 to $12, based on a $100 bi-monthly bill.

The water district would also be committed to buying Poseidon’s desalinated water for up to 50 years based on the current contract, which is not legally binding.

Garden Grove staff, who recommended the council oppose the project, also question whether the expensive new water supply is needed, given that California is entering its fourth consecutive year of severe drought.

“If the project was on line today with the Governor’s 25 percent requirement to reduce DEMAND, there would be no benefit from the project since the Governor has ordered a reduction in DEMAND not SUPPLY,” reads the staff report.

Poseidon is currently constructing a desalination in Carlsbad, located in San Diego County, which promises to be the largest of its kind in the nation, producing 50 million gallons of drinking water a day.

Environmentalists say the reverse osmosis technology used in desalination consumes a massive amount of electricity that contributes to global warming issues.

Coastal groups also fear that the discharged brine from the plant would have a substantial impact on sea life. The water district, in its response to the Garden Grove staff report, countered this argument, saying that the discharged brine is the same salt-and-mineral mix as what is already in the ocean.

Garden Grove will pick up the issue again at their next meeting on July 28, this time with a newly composed letter to the water district.

If nothing else, the Poseidon issue is another sign that Mayor Nguyen is becoming increasingly alone on council votes.

“I feel like the mayor of another city — maybe Anaheim,” Nguyen said after losing the vote, referring to Anaheim mayor Tom Tait, who has in recent years been a lone wolf in council votes.

Contact Thy Vo at tvo@voiceofoc.org or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.

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