How can a brand new article be ready for the dustbin of history?

In his community editorial from April 23, 2021 “Kokal: Why We Must Kill Zombie Poseidon”, Kokal’s facts are missing and the opinions are way past their expiration date and should be flushed away. 

Here’s the updated and missing information on Kokal’s fishy information on Poseidon, the proposed desal plant for Huntington Beach.

This year California has restricted the flow of water from Northern California via the State Water Project (SWP) to 5% which provides less than 100,000 acre feet for Metropolitan Water (Met).

For this year, an acre foot of water will cost Met over $5000.  Met must support the SWP at $500 million per year regardless of how much water flows.  This year, for less than 100,000 acre feet for a cost of $500 million, Met will pay $5000 an acre foot.  This cost is currently a one year anomaly but it could easily become endemic if the current drought continues and Northern California water is prioritized for fish and fauna. When you add normal Met overhead this water cost balloons to $6000 an acre foot. Poseidon water, when it becomes available in approximately 2025, will probably cost less than half this much.

50% of California’s fresh water runoff is forced into the Pacific Ocean through the Delta in Northern California.  The irony is that some of this fresh water, which could be flowing down the California Water Project, will be transported down the coast by the California Current and reused by Poseidon.

The newest California water cycle: fresh Delta water turned to salt water in the Bay and returned to fresh water by Poseidon in SoCal.

When the Municipal Water District of Orange County (MWDOC) did their reliability study in 2016 and updated it in 2018, it assumed a steady flow of water from both Northern California (with completion of the Delta Conveyance by 2035) and the Colorado River. Both of these sources are dramatically less available given the reoccurrence of persistent drought and global warming throughout the Western US.  Anyone who has studied California water projections over the last 20 years will find one clear fact: they are always wrong.  There are only two water projections that have long term accuracy for Orange County:  there will be less water from outside OC and all the water will cost more.

Here’s the link to the MWDOC water reliability study.  Warning, its heavy lifting:

The Colorado River is likely to go into drought imposed restrictions beginning in 2022 (when Lake Mead/Hoover Dam water levels go below 1075 feet, see red line on chart) much like the State Water Project is for this year. Given global warming, this reduction is likely to become the norm. Orange County will get less outside water and it will cost more.  The OC needs Poseidon as a backup for State Water Project and Colorado River water.

Kokal complains that Poseidon will get $400 million in Met incentives.  This is incorrect.  Poseidon is not a Met member agency and is not eligible for these funds.  These incentives, the Local Resource Program (LRP established in 1982), are available throughout the Met service area to member agencies that can create viable local water sources.  The Huntington Beach facility justifiably qualifies as a local water source which will flow through met Orange County member agencies and have the effect of lower cost of water for Orange County ratepayers.

Kokal creates a false comparison between rate payers and Poseidon investors. In fact, Poseidon investors will be taking on the risk of any water production or operational shortfalls by Poseidon, not rate payers.  Rate payers will get the benefit of a new, local water supply as both the Colorado River and Northern California water sources are reduced for SoCal.

Kokal blithely dismisses the San Diego/Carlsbad desal plant by ignoring the clear production success it represents without damaging the environment. Obviously, the San Diego Water Authority and the citizens of San Diego County think the Carlsbad desal plant is a success that protects its rate payers as a reliable resource. And so do the state’s water quality regulators who approved the facility’s long-term operation in 2019 after judging its first 5 years of operation an environmental success.

Kokal creates another red herring with his “salt into the ocean” canard.  Yes, Poseidon will put 2.6 million tons of salt back into the ocean each year, which is the same amount of salt it takes out of the ocean.  In the water world, these are not outsized numbers. Compare this to the Colorado River water at Hoover Dam that is FRESH water and has 10 million tons of salt dissolved in it each year.  Much of that salt needs to be removed to reduce a billion dollars of salt related damage to infrastructure and agriculture.

So what does Kokal submit as alternatives to Poseidon?  Here are his suggestions and the facts that weren’t added.

Kokal Suggestion: Conservation – Conserving a gallon of water is many times cheaper than having to produce that water.

The Rest of the Story:

Internal use conservation (low flow clothes and dish washers, toilets and showers) is close to the maximum effectiveness in OC. Today the OC uses the same amount of water as it did in 1980 even though there are an additional 1.3 million residents. The only significant opportunity for further water reduction is to let trees, plants and grass dry and die.  Within the next year, we will see directives from Sacramento to do exactly that. Sacramento is set to impose 2023 water budgets based on internal water use combined with the evapotranspiration (ET) rate.  The ET rate is the rate at which plants lose water to the atmosphere.  To achieve robust plant sustainability the rate needs to be near 1.0.  Sacramento will use a lower percentage as it tries to drive down external water use.  Prepare for your existing plants to dry and die.

Kokal Suggestion: Storm Water Capture– The next cheapest alternative is storm water capture and there hasn’t been a new storm water program built in over 20 years!

The Rest of the Story:

98% of OC storm water is captured through runoff in the Santa Ana River’s berms and inflatable dams. This captured water is then used to recharge the aquifer.  This decades old process has been and is a fully functional program that needs regular maintenance but no upgrades. Anyone who drives near the Santa Ana River will see OCWD bulldozers regularly maintaining this system.

Kokal Suggestion: Water Recycling– It works and does so at a low cost to ratepayers.

The Rest of the Story:

Water recycling in OC is the EXACT SAME process as Poseidon desal beginning with waste water instead of sea water, reverse osmosis (RO).   What Kokal overlooks is that OC SanDistrict uses $850 an acre foot to collect and process waste water before it’s turned over to the Orange County Water District (OCWD) for final recycling.  This final step costs another $1800 an acre foot.  The total real cost for OC recycled water is over $2650 an acre foot.  This is very close to the projected water cost for Poseidon.

All those who complain about Poseidon being too costly have forgotten history. The Poseidon saga began almost 20 years ago. Twenty years ago, in 2000, a gallon of gas cost $1.50 and average rent was about $1000 per month.  Today a gallon of gas costs close to $4.00 and average rent in OC is over $2150 a month.

An acre foot of treated water from Met was about $450 in 2000.  Today that same water costs almost $1200.  Opponents have delayed Poseidon for 20 years but now want to say that Poseidon water costs too much.  This is equivalent to a home buyer fighting for 20 years over buying a home and then being upset because the price went up. What a stinky kettle of fish.

Kokal concludes his Poseidon attack with the novel idea that OC has TOO MUCH WATER.  Please tell that story to Sacramento since they are likely to push mandatory reductions of 10% to 30% as the drought expands into this year and next. 

This article is an expression of Al Nederhood’s views, not those of the Municipal Water District of Orange County (MWDOC).

Al Nederhood spent most of his career in education, first as a public school teacher (he has a Life Teaching Credential, Secondary Level, and a Master’s Degree) and later was the president of vocational colleges and of a nonprofit in Santa Ana.  He retired from the private sector in 2015.  He was first elected to Yorba Linda Water District Board of Directors in 2016 and served for four years.

In November 2020 he was elected to the Board of Directors, Division One for the Municipal Water District of Orange County.  Division One represents the cities of: La Palma, Buena Park, La Habra, Brea, Placentia and Yorba Linda and includes a population of almost 320,000.

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