In the slippery-when-wet world of water politics, irony abounds and things get confusing fast. Witness yesterday when Faubel Public Affairs President Brian Lochrie, a spokesman for Poseidon Resources Inc., stood before a small group of senior citizens at the Costa Mesa Historical Society. Lochrie is often quoted in local rags speaking in support of a proposed billion dollar desalination facility in Huntington Beach. But yesterday's meet-and-greet saw the Cal State Fullerton Alum shilling for another boss, the Orange County Stormwater Program, which operates under the umbrella of OC Public Works.
The program is charged with educating the public about efficient water use and how to keep pesticides and animal waste from making their way into storm drains and polluting the ocean. Speaking to a room of about 16 seniors, Lochrie earned a slice of the $500,000 Faubel Public Affairs secured from the County last March by explaining the importance of using a broom instead of a hose to clean one's driveway, picking up pet poop, and installing rain barrels to capture water for use on lawns and gardens.
The last suggestion proved most ironic.
Critics of Lochrie's other boss, Poseidon, and its planned desalination project have argued that the expensive and energy-intensive process could be avoided by finding less costly sources of water--including rain capture. To illustrate: Water produced by desal, which requires lots of energy to push saltwater through reverse osmosis filters, may cost as much (or more) than $1,424 per acre foot. Compare this to north county's groundwater price tag, which is $480 an acre foot. In the case of rain water, the only cost is for the rain barrel (unless the grand magician in the sky decides he wants to start a business).
But according to Lochrie, the stormwater program is only interested in rain capture to a point. When an engineer in the crowd calculated the large amount of rain that falls off the historical society's roof, Lochrie, whose agency doesn't actually provide rain barrels, said it was important to only capture the first few minutes of a rain storm, which quickly flushes accumulated pollutants to the ocean. "At least the water running off [after that] is clean," he explained.
Though the buzzwords of the afternoon presentation were pollution, conservation and coastal protection, there was no mention of Lochrie's association with the Poseidon project, which would suck 100 million gallons of sea water, (along with fish eggs and other organic material) into cooling pipes, then discharge 50 million gallons of concentrated (and harmful-to-life brine) back into the ocean.
When folks in the crowd raised questions about water quality and increasing population growth, Lochrie confirmed that rancor over increased demand for the usual sources such as the Colorado River have made them less reliable.
"Water is an issue for growth," Lochrie said. "Which is why they're looking at different ways to supply water for Orange County."
Indeed 'they' are.
Last year San Diego County signed on to buy desalted H20 from a $1 billion Carlsbad plant which is still under construction. The Connecticut-based company will repay its investors with revenues ponied up by water customers locked into a 30-year deal.
In Orange County, Poseidon has received the greenlight from the Huntington Beach City Council to move forward with its Surf City project, but is currently awaiting approval from the California Coastal Commission, which is expected to render a decision in June. Currently, 20 local water agencies are part of a work group facilitated by the Municipal Water District of Orange County (MWDOC) discussing the purchase of Poseidon water.
Judging by the polite questions of seniors at yesterday's presentation, there doesn't seem to be much concern about an impending hike in water rates. Still, there was one comment that provided a pivotal moment for reflection. After Lochrie chanted a common mantra, "The ocean begins at your front door," one old fellow sitting in the front row responded "It sounds like you're going to put saltwater in our houses."