The Orange County Water District continues to push forward on its involvement with Poseidon Water's proposed ocean desalination plant in Huntington Beach, deciding this week to delve deeper into three water distribution options for the facility.
The district's board voted 7-0 on Wednesday to have staff continue analyzing the methods of how the water from the desalination project would be delivered to customers. Board member Jan Flory abstained from the vote, and members Denis Bilodeau and Jordan Brandman were absent.
The Orange County Water District serves most of the northern county, including Costa Mesa, Newport Beach, Irvine and Huntington Beach.
The desalination plant, which is proposed to be built next to the AES power plant at Newland Street and Pacific Coast Highway, is expected to produce 50 million gallons per day of desalinated water, according to Poseidon.
The water district is analyzing distribution methods because of a term sheet it agreed to with Poseidon. The term sheet, approved in May, says the district would be responsible for distributing the water, while Poseidon would be responsible for creating the facility and producing the water.
The district has yet to decide whether it will purchase water from Poseidon.
Last month, water district staff introduced eight distribution options to the board. Three of them, which proposed injecting the water into various wells in the county, were rejected because costs were considered too high.
On Wednesday, board members dismissed two more options — one that would require the district to build new wells and another in which all the water would be directly delivered to cities and water agencies, including in south Orange County.
Sandy Scott-Roberts, a principal engineer for the water district, told board members that directly distributing the water to cities and agencies would come with many obstacles.
The district would need an agreement with each agency in the district's service area that wanted to purchase the water. The district includes 19 agencies.
The district also would need approval from the West Orange County Water Board in Huntington Beach to connect Poseidon to one of its feeder lines.
Additionally, the water district is not allowed to sell water to agencies outside its service area and would need to negotiate with the Municipal Water District of Orange County if it chose to go that route.
"We're set up to manage the groundwater basin and we have a specific boundary," said John Kennedy, executive director of engineering and water resources for the Orange County Water District. "We don't really have any powers outside of our boundary, so we really don't have the authority to sell water to South County. We would have to partner with MWDOC."
However, one of the options board members want to continue pursuing involves selling a total of 10 million gallons per day to four South County water districts that have expressed interest in buying water from Poseidon: Laguna Beach County, Santa Margarita, Moulton Niguel and El Toro.
In that plan, an additional 25 million gallons per day would be distributed directly to various agencies. The remaining 15 million gallons per day would be pumped into the groundwater basin at the Talbert Barrier injection wells in Huntington Beach and Fountain Valley.
Scott-Roberts estimated the cost of that option at $161 million.
Flory, who chose not to vote on the issue because she believes her district should not be negotiating with Poseidon, said south Orange County should build its own desalination facility if it wants desalinated water.
Orange County Water District General Manager Michael Markus said the South Coast Water District plans to build a plant at Doheny State Beach in Dana Point that was expected to produce 15 million gallons of desalinated water per day.
However, Kennedy said expected production was cut to 5 million gallons per day because of a lack of interest from surrounding water agencies.
In one of the other options OCWD wants to analyze, a total of 42 million gallons per day would be pumped into the groundwater basin at the Talbert Barrier and the Burris booster pump station and outlet in Anaheim. The remaining 8 million gallons per day would be sold directly to Huntington Beach and Newport Beach. Scott-Roberts estimated the cost at $131 million.
But she told board members that method would increase OCWD's cost for the final expansion of its groundwater replenishment system by $200 million.
Board member Philip Anthony said directly delivering water to users is best because it would be ready for use.
"Whatever we do, we should not put that water back into the ground," he said. "We should use it somewhere where it can go directly to the consumer."
The remaining option would pump 15 million gallons per day of desalinated water into the groundwater basin at the Talbert Barrier and sell the remaining 35 million gallons per day directly to agencies. Scott-Roberts estimated the cost at $97 million.
However, as in the other options, the district still would face the increased cost of pumping out and treating the desalinated water stored in the ground. It also would still need approval from the West Orange County Water Board to connect to its pipeline, as well as approval from the Municipal Water District to sell the water outside OCWD's service area.
Meanwhile, Poseidon officials are still waiting to hear from the California Coastal Commission on when their application for a plant construction permit will be heard.
Poseidon is one permit away from being able to build the $1-billion facility in Huntington Beach. It submitted its application to the Coastal Commission in September.
This is the second time Poseidon has sought a construction permit from the state agency. The commission first heard Poseidon's application in November 2013. However, the company withdrew it to conduct additional studies on subsurface water intakes for the plant.
Poseidon Vice President Scott Maloni said Coastal Commission staff has deemed the latest application incomplete. Commission staff is seeking more information on how a tsunami could affect the plant site and how Poseidon's project would not conflict with AES.
AES is in the process of converting its facility to be air-cooled instead of water-cooled. Poseidon has said it would use AES' ocean water intake pipe to bring in water for the desalination plant.
Maloni said he does not know when the permit application will be heard.
"Coastal Commission staff told us [the hearing] was going to be in March, then they told us May, and if it not May, it would be in July," he said.