After two long days of presentations, deliberations and public comment, the Santa Ana Regional Water Board delayed its vote on the proposed Poseidon Huntington Beach desalination plant until this Friday, August 7. The Regional Water Board must decide whether to approve or deny Poseidon Resources, L.L.C.’s proposal to intake 104 million gallons per day (MGD) of seawater and convert it to 50 MGD of freshwater. The plant would also discharge toxic brain in near shore waters, raising concerns for marine life and beachgoers alike. If you’d like to learn more about why seawater desalination can be harmful – especially when designed with profits in mind using archaic technology (as is the case with Poseidon’s proposal) – check out californiadesalfacts.org.
The meeting started off on Thursday, July 30 with a staff presentation about the need for the water and the adequacy of the proposed mitigation plan. Board members raised serious concerns and confusion about the proposed mitigation. Poseidon’s mitigation plan would fund dredging operations to maintain the Bolsa Chica Wetlands – several board members (as well as environmental organizations) pointed out that the plan doesn’t satisfy the state regulations that any mitigation projects must create or enhance habitat, not simply preserve it.
The Regional Water Board then heard about 8 hours of public testimony which spilled into Friday afternoon. Surfrider and others pointed to the myriad of ways in which the project is inconsistent with the state’s desalination regulations. Speakers reiterated over and over again their concerns about the lack of need and the plethora of less environmentally harmful viable alternatives in the region that wouldn’t cost nearly as much.
The region should really be promoting alternatives like expansion of Orange County’s wastewater recycling plant and conservation measures. Indeed, the cost of Poseidon’s proposal – which is expected to ring in at over $1 billion – will unduly burden low-income families that are already struggling to pay their water bills. It also perpetuates our region’s reliance on fossil fuels – and not insignificantly. Desalination is the most carbon intensive water supply source and would contribute about 69,000 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere each year and in turn continue to burden low-income communities with pollution surrounding our power plants. As the state moves towards its goals of being carbon neutral by 2035, this project would be a huge step in the wrong direction.
After public comment, the board members questioned staff and Poseidon and our Coastkeeper partners. As the clock ran up to 7pm on Friday evening, they decided they’d all like more time to ponder the project and punted the vote to their Friday, August 7 hearing. They won’t be taking additional public comment but it should be interesting and certainly riveting as they deliberate and vote. You can watch live at cal-span.org. The meeting starts at 9am.
Poseidon had been lobbying hard at the local, state and federal to get this plant through despite the fact that the plant doesn’t use the best available technology as identified in the State Water Resource Control Board’s 2015 Desalination Regulations. Indeed, the project made it to Trump’s list of 50 priority infrastructure projects nationwide.
California regulations clearly state that the preferred technology for seawater desalination is to use subsurface intakes that avoid entrainment and impingement of billions of important marine life – including larvae and plankton, the base of the food chain. Subsurface intakes also eliminate the need for pretreatment and anti-fouling chemicals and thus mean the discharge brine is much less toxic. Poseidon claims they can’t use subsurface in this location, and would rather conveniently co-locate with the AES Huntington Beach power plant and utilize their intake pipelines. This sounds logical unless you consider that the state of California specifically outlawed these intakes for power plants and every coastal power plant in the state is in the process of phasing those intakes out. Poseidon, ever the opportunist, is proposing to use those intakes for the next 50 years – all for water that Orange County doesn’t need!