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Surfrider Foundation Challenges Carlsbad Ocean Desalination Permit

January 26 2009 |
by Surfrider Foundation

The contentious plan to build a massive ocean desalination on the Agua Hedionda Lagoon in Carlsbad, California has been challenged in court. Surfrider Foundation, as lead plaintiff, claims approval by the Coastal Commission to build the largest ocean desalination facility in the western hemisphere violates California law because it was not designed or located to avoid the unnecessary destruction of marine life.

Open water intakes, like that proposed in Carlsbad, have been shown to suck in and kill all stages of marine life, significantly impacting healthy marine ecological systems. The project is also extremely energy demanding: stretching our current electrical supplies and undermining California’s efforts to curb global warming. According to Joe Geever, Surfrider Foundation’s California Policy Coordinator, “Healthy marine life populations are already threatened by pollution and impacts from climate change. This project would constantly ‘fish’ the water surrounding the intake and require approximately 40% more electricity than pumping water all the way from the Sacramento Delta – our most energy demanding current source of water.”

Surfrider and other environmental organizations have supported ocean desalination research and pilot projects to reduce the enormous energy demand and to test intake systems that avoid marine life mortality. That research has already shown signs of success. Geever summarizes their support for research with their opposition to this particular project: “Whether or not you support the idea of ocean desalination, it has to be done responsibly and according to the law. Responsible desalination may be right around the corner, but this proposal isn’t even close.”

In the meantime, there is a growing consensus in the environmental community and research institutes that alternatives including expanded water conservation programs, wastewater recycling, and a host of rainwater retention practices can accommodate foreseeable freshwater demand. Importantly, these options have the added benefits of reducing water pollution, dramatically cutting back energy use, and restoring our coast and ocean habitat.

Surfrider Foundation’s attorney, Marco Gonzalez of Coast Law Group, is quick to point out, “Our client is not an overly litigious group. They’ve gone the extra mile to advance sustainable and environmentally responsible water supply alternatives. But they won’t stand by while the laws created to protect our coast and ocean are blatantly ignored by the agencies responsible to enforce them.”
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