Scott Marks 4:26 p.m., May 21
Groups complain Water Authority is rushing a vote on proposed Carlsbad desalinization plant
Surfrider San Diego and the watchdog group Independent Rates Oversight Committee are calling foul on what they see as a push by the San Diego County Water Authority to force a premature vote on approval of a water purchase agreement from a proposed desalinization plant in Carlsbad, potentially scheduled for November 29.
Poseidon Resources has been working with the city of Carlsbad for over 10 years to devise an agreement whereby the city would be able to purchase fresh water from Poseidon at a price no greater than what it currently pays.
This won’t be the case, detractors argue. According to the Oversight Committee, the price of Poseidon’s water would be three times as much as is currently charged by the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District. According to a report provided to the city council that admits numerous variables could affect ultimate accuracy, the cost of desalinated water would begin to pull even with existing supply about 10 years from the initial purchase date.
A study by the Water Authority to factor in those variables in determining the ultimate cost of desalinization isn’t due until sometime next year.
The Oversight Committee and Surfrider say that Poseidon is pushing for the vote, pointing out that the company’s lease on the site expires November 29, the same date as the proposed vote. The lease has neared expiration and been successfully renewed several times in the past, but Poseidon also says its contracts for construction and operation of the plant expire at the end of the year, and could lead to even higher costs if renegotiation is necessary.
“This is nothing more than a scare tactic to pressure the agency into agreeing to this very poor deal,” says Don Billings, an Oversight Committee member.
Carlsbad, for its part, is enthusiastic about the possibility of moving forward with desalinization.
“The time to approve this project is now,” insists mayor Matt Hall, acknowledging that doing so would lead to an average rate hike of about $7 per month for local water customers.
A Surfrider release also points back to a previous Poseidon attempt to construct a similar facility in Tampa Bay, Florida in the late 1990s. The city there ended up buying out Poseidon after the company’s backers went bankrupt and numerous problems in the operation of the facility came to light, causing one consultant to comment that Poseidon “gave the desal industry in the U.S. a black eye for several years.”