Active | January 05 2005
Since the early 2000s, Poseidon Resources – owned by global developer Brookfield Infrastructure Partners – has tried to fast-track a billion-dollar desalination plant that would produce 50 million gallons of water per day, at a cost twice that of imported water and four times higher than stormwater capture. Poseidon has spent over $1.6 million lobbying for the project, and still does not have a buyer for the water.
There are six major problems with Poseidon’s proposal:
1. We don’t need the water
Orange County’s most recent water plan, published April 2016, indicates the County can meet its water needs through 2040 without the plant. And Orange County has a range of less expensive, more sustainable options for developing new water supplies.
According to the Pacific Institute, water conservation and efficiency improvements − like those called for in the state’s new water plan − could reduce water use by a third.
2. It’s a bad deal for consumers
The billion-dollar plant would increase water bills for hard-working families to line the pockets of Poseidon and its parent company Brookfield Infrastructure Partners.
Poseidon wants Orange County to sign a 50-year ‘take or pay’ contract that commits ratepayers to buying the county’s most expensive water and guarantees returns for Poseidon.
Orange County has firsthand experience with the high cost of public-private partnerships that put corporate profits above public benefit.
3. It would undermine California’s climate goals
Desalination is the most energy intensive way to produce fresh water, using three times more energy than water recycling.
The proposed location is vulnerable to floods from storms and rising seas.
4. We have smarter water supply options
Orange County’s state-of-the-art water recycling facility produces twice the capacity of Poseidon’s proposed plant for a fraction of the cost; it is being expanded now.
Orange County still discharges about 100 million gallons of water into the ocean every day, indicating that there are additional reuse opportunities.
5. It will harm valuable ocean fisheries without reducing stress on freshwater systems
Outdated intake pipes will suck up tons of plankton, eggs, fish and shellfish, damaging California’s globally significant marine ecosystems.
Chemical-laden brine will pollute the water near nine marine protected areas.
Despite claims by Poseidon’s lobbyists, seawater desalination will not reduce stress on the Bay Delta or other freshwater systems.
6. Poseidon is a bad actor
Poseidon’s Carlsbad plant has failed to deliver a fifth of the water promised to San Diego County Water Authority, and racked up more than a dozen water quality violations during its first year of operations.
The proposed Huntington Beach plant does not meet state rules designed to reduce environmental impacts, and Poseidon has resisted the push to modernize and comply.
Two 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.
Fast-forward to 2017, when the California State Lands Commission will discuss the proposed Huntington Beach desalination plant at its October 19 meeting. The Commission will vote to approve or disapprove of an environmental impact report, including determination that the Huntington Beach facility will comply with California’s 2015 desalination policy.
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