The Orange County Water District will look into the cost of buying water from a proposed desalination plant in Huntington Beach.
Board members for the district, which covers Costa Mesa, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach and Fountain Valley, voted 8 to 1 Wednesday night to pay financial consultant Clean Energy Capital $49,720 to determine the benefits and risks of using Poseidon Resources' project. Director Philip Anthony dissented and director Stephen Sheldon was absent.
Though a few directors said they might not be in favor of the desalination plant, they recognized that having information on the alternative water source could help the district and county in the current water shortage.
The district is also looking into ways it can reduce its dependency on imported water.
"We may not be supportive of this project in the end, but we can't make an informed decision without good, solid information," director Vincent Sarmiento said.
Clean Energy Capital will compare the cost of desalinated water to the price of water bought from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
OCWD buys water from the Metropolitan Water District at $970 per acre-foot. Desalinated water from Poseidon is estimated to cost $1,850 per acre-foot, or $1,600 with a $250 subsidy from the Metropolitan Water District, according to an independent study OCWD authorized.
District Vice President Cathy Green said OCWD's groundwater replenishment system received criticism from the public in 2007 just as Poseidon does today. She believes it would be a mistake not to study the feasibility of not just Poseidon's project, but of desalinated water as a whole.
"If you have a source of water that is sustainable and reliable, why on earth would you not look at it?" she said.
Costa Mesa resident Phil Ackerman agreed, adding in his public comment that the demand for water is never going to go away.
"Desalination is a topic that needs to be addressed and supported, regardless of whether it's Poseidon or [another company]," he said.
On the other hand, Anthony said, the district is jumping the gun on analyzing the process and it's "foolish to spend money to analyze a project that's not even real."
Poseidon and the California Coastal Commission are set to start an independent review on whether subsurface water intakes are feasible for the project, Poseidon Vice President Scott Maloni said after the meeting.
The two agencies have been working together since the state coastal agency's decision in November, which allowed the water company to analyze alternative intakes for the project.
Poseidon had been set to use open-water intakes for the facility, but environmentalists have said using such pipes would be detrimental to marine life.