Huntington Beach/Seal Beach

Desalination Plant Huntington Beach

Active | January 05 2005

Clean Water

Since the early 2000s, Poseidon has tried to fast-track the necessary permits needed to construct and operate a proposed seawater desalination facility in the City of Huntington Beach. 

Ocean desalination is the process of removing salt and other impurities from seawater to produce fresh water.   There are a number of desalination technologies, and if it is not done properly, the seawater intake process can unnecessarily kill marine life.  Desalination also produces a highly concentrated brine discharge that degrades water quality and marine life habitat if not properly diluted.

In addition, desalination is the most energy-intensive and expensive water supply option in California.  A great amount of energy is required to force water molecules through the small pores of a reverse osmosis membrane to separate them from the slightly larger salt molecules.  Desalination facilities increase greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to sea level rise and ocean acidification.  

There are numerous ocean desalination facilities being proposed in California, all in various stages of planning or permitting. Many of the proposed facilities have not been designed to minimize degradation to marine habitats and water quality, nor are the proposals being thoroughly evaluated by any government agency for their cumulative impacts statewide. Perhaps worse, none of the proposals have been adequately compared to less costly and preferable water supply solutions. Economically and environmentally sound alternatives like wastewater recycling, improved stormwater management and harvesting, and multi-benefit conservation efforts like Surfrider Foundation’s “Ocean Friendly Gardens” program should be fully implemented prior to turning to ocean desalination.

In fact, local water supply agencies are losing interest in the project because of the economic impact it would have on their customers. Adopting the most expensive water supply option will undermine the ability of these agencies to fund preferable options that would restore and protect our coast and ocean.

The two most recent permit attempts were submitted in 2013 and 2015. In 2013, Poseidon withdrew their permit after California Coastal Commissioners made it clear more information was required. The Coastal Commission then assembled an independent scientific technical advisory panel (ISTAP) to assess feasibility for alternative ocean intake technology. The expert panel was completing phase 2 and preparing to enter phase 3 when the State Water Board adopted its new Ocean Plan amendment on desalination regulations. That amendment requires all seawater desalination facilities use the “best available” site, design, technology and mitigation measures feasible. It also establishes that the State and Regional Boards have primary authority to determine whether proposed facilities meet that standard. The amendment also establishes that subsurface intakes are the preferred method for facilities to obtain seawater.

In September 2015, near the end of the ISTAP’s Phase 2 review, Poseidon submitted its second CDP application (#9-15-1361) and application fee of $280,324 to the Commission. This was contrary to staff’s recommendation that Poseidon fund a third phase of the ISTAP review to determine the feasibility of alternative sites along the Orange County shoreline. This permit was later withdrawn in the fall of 2016, just before it was scheduled to go to hearing and after a staff report was completed. The environmental community and local citizen groups oppose this project because it does not meet recommendations by the science community to minimize threats to marine life and address energy implications. Approving the Poseidon facility would set the worst possible standard for future ocean desalination proposals statewide. Poseidon’s Huntington Beach project proposal will create tremendous economic and environmental adverse impacts.

After creating much confusion among relevant state agencies (Regional Water Board, Coastal Commission and State Lands Commission) on the permit sequencing, Poseidon proposed, as a condition of withdrawing its CDP application again in 2016, that the three agencies develop a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with Poseidon to outline the preferred review sequence – i.e., that the SLC will complete its CEQA review; that the Regional Board staff will develop a tentative decision within 90 days of receiving all necessary information from Poseidon and of completion of the proposed project’s CEQA requirements; and that Commission staff will schedule a hearing on Poseidon’s new CDP application within 90 days of the Regional Board’s published tentative determination of Poseidon’s project’s conformity with the Desalination Amendment.

Clean Water

Everyone should have access to clean water to surf, swim and play in. The Surfrider Foundation is taking a multi-tiered approach to tackle ocean pollution problems. We are testing the waters for bacteria and toxins, raising public awareness and finding real solutions to ocean pollution; solutions that restore healthy watersheds, protect local water supplies and keep pollution from reaching the ocean.

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