Los Angeles Times

Poseidon invites cities to talk water rates

Negotiations between Poseidon Resources and various city and water agencies are underway in hopes to determine potential bidders of desalinated water.

Poseidon Resources, which have had talks with the city of Huntington Beach about building a desalination plant, have released a draft outline that explains the parameters of the project, including the cost to purchase the water it produces.

Cities and water agencies can now submit non-binding letters of intent to Poseidon, giving the business a better understanding of the demand of desalinated water, Poseidon spokesperson Brian Lochrie said.

The sample letter of intent posted on the Municipal Water District of Orange County's website asks potential bidders how much water they would purchase from Poseidon.

The cost of producing desalinated water from Poseidon's plant is estimated to be $1,424 per acre foot, according to a press release by MWDOC.

Though the price only considers the production cost, a $250 per acre foot discount from the Metropolitan Water District was factored into the cost.

Despite the subsidy, Poseidon is estimating delivery costs to be an additional $94 to 138 per acre foot.

Lochrie said the price for their water may currently be steep, but costs could potentially decrease depending on "technological advances" in desalination production in the future.

Poseidon has old intent letters from various cities and water agencies, but expects to receive current propositions from them, Lochrie said.

"If there's a [desalination] plant in Huntington Beach, I expect it to be something advantageous to the city," Councilman Jim Katapodis said.

Katapodis said he is "on the fence" about this issue and said he will wait to see what Poseidon has to offer.

The search for a new water source has been an ongoing quest for the state of California Desalination — the process of removing salt from saline water — has been an option floating around for many coastal cities, including Huntington Beach.

The plant would draw in sea water by tapping into AES's pipes and purify it using a method called reverse osmosis.

Sea water travels through a membrane with tiny holes, separating salt and other minerals and producing high-quality drinking water, Lochrie said.

"It's an option, but we need to look at all the options," Pacific Institute water program coordinator Heather Cooley said.

Pacific Institute is a nonprofit research group that focuses on environmental protection and water issues.

Cooley said there are other, cheaper alternatives that cities and other water agencies should consider before looking into desalination.

Options like storm water capture and treatment, brackish water desalination or better water conservation efforts are choices cities have to consider, Cooley said.

"You have to look at each city individually," she said.

Cooley added that the process is energy intensive and with electricity prices expected to go up, so will the cost of the water.

And then there's the impact it could have on marine life. Cooley said large fish will be caught in the mesh intakes of the plant while small fish eggs and larvae that pass the sieve will be killed during the desalination process.

According to Poseidon, sea water derived straight from the ocean will not be used. Instead, water used for desalination will come from the neighboring AES power plant after it is used to cool its generating station.

It's been a hit-and-miss option for cities around the world. Countries like Saudi Arabia have seen great success in utilizing desalination plants, according to a report by KCRW. But for others, like the city of Santa Barbara, it has yet to yield any positive results, according to the report.

In 1991 Santa Barbara, along with the Montecito and Goleta water districts, decided to pay for a plant out of their own pockets, costing them $34 million, according to Santa Barbara's city website.

Built by Ionics, Inc., the plant has been in standby mode since its completion in 1992 and would cost $17.7 to place it in full commission.

"Poseidon's never built a plant that works," Mayor Connie Boardman said. "I don't want to charge residents a premium on water."

Boardman agrees with Cooley and thinks the city doesn't need to buy water from a desalination plant, but some fellow council members disagree with her.

Mayor Pro Tem Matt Harper and Councilman Joe Carchio both agree that desalination is the way to go, not only for a means to reduce the state's dependency on outside water agencies, but also for emergencies.

Carchio said if an earthquake were to occur near the San Andreas Fault, the water supply derived from Northern California would be cut off. By adding a desalination plant, Carchio and Harper believe it will solve that problem.

"What is wiser for the future?" Harper said. "More aqueducts or a desalination plant for the future?"

Though Lochrie is positive desalination will eventually pay for itself, he said he recognizes the other alternatives available for cities and water agencies.

"No one ever said desalinated water would be a silver bullet and solve everything," he said, "but it's just another arrow in the quiver."


Twitter: @acocarpio

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times