Monday, Dec. 29, 2008 | Rob Davis‘ article “Asking Obama for Desal Subsidy,” highlights how the stimulus package can go wrong.

First off — are they kidding us?  Anyone with the ability to Google “poseidon desal Florida” can pull up plenty of information on how this company [Poseidon Resources] so badly botched their attempt at a desalination plant in Tampa Bay, FL that the municipality took over the operation and then abandoned plans for a second plant slated there in Pinellas County.  Now routinely referred to as a “fiasco” marked by Poseidon’s “malfunctioning equipment and financial fumbles,” the Tampa Bay example shouts out to us starry-eyed California waifs, “Don’t do it — Run away.”  Wrong company.  Wrong technology. … and let’s be smart enough to learn from Florida’s experience that throwing our valuable tax dollars at this kind of proposition would be utterly, entirely wasteful, both fiscally and environmentally.

Secondly, if this company and this technology was the cure-all that proponents all (yes, including every one of your local, state and national level representatives have drunk the Poseidon Kool-Aid) claim it to be, it would have no trouble attracting mountains (mountains!) of venture capital money.  But the poor Poseidon project has this trail of failure that forces them to beg us hardworking taxpayers to provide the profit margin they so desire.  The water will already have to be seriously subsidized to make it “affordable” as it costs so much more than our other water sources (including reuse) — now they want free money just to get their pipe dream off the ground?  Let’s laugh at the emperor’s new clothes. … and move on to something more sensible.  Consider the future, not just the panicky “now.”

Thirdly, consider the environment:

We’re told the new administration is planning a massive job stimulus package. That’s good.  We need the jobs and our infrastructure needs repairs. But we also hear Obama will join the worldwide effort to reduce the rate of climate change, and transition to a longer-term “green economy.” That’s even better. We can simultaneously provide local economic stimulus and build for a prosperous and sustainable future.

The Poseidon desalination factory would undermine these laudable goals with ratepayer subsidies and now a federal “freebie.”  But we can create jobs, curb climate change, and transition into a sustainable future with smarter water investments. We can create manufacturing jobs for the same firms that would supply Poseidon. We can also reduce pollution and waste.

The Poseidon proposal is by far the most energy intensive alternative for freshwater supplies we could choose. So much so, Poseidon has to spend millions of dollars offsetting the greenhouse gases. That’s right, “offsetting” not “reducing” — and with our tax dollars!

The desal factory will also kill every life stage of fish — another direct assault on already suffering marine life populations. Our local fishermen need not suffer another threat to their job security, and our source of nutrition.

Instead, we can fuel immediate stimulus and launch a sustainable economic recovery. Long-overdue jobs repairing broken infrastructure will reduce water waste. Stepping up indirect potable re-use water projects will put the same jobs Poseidon promises in manufacturing and construction towards a solution that reduces energy demand and pollution. Outdoor conservation projects and rebates can put City employees to work retrofitting our pubic irrigation systems and landscaping and provide a “green” industry in home improvement. “Green streets” and “low impact development” retrofit projects can provide immediate employment, capture rain water, and reduce pollution.

If this generation is going to spend billions of dollars on a stimulus package, it should be a smart one. If we create a massive debt for our grandchildren, we should provide them a cleaner and safer world with a sustainable economy to pay for it.

Scott Harrison is chairman of the Surfrider Foundation, San Diego Chapter..

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