Know Your H20, Desalination
November 15 2013

Huntington Beach Seawater Desalination Put on Hold

by Julia Chunn-Heer

After nearly ten years of the Surfrider Foundation and local residents raising concerns about plans to build a seawater desalination facility in Huntington Beach, the Coastal Commission finally reviewed the project and sent it back for improvements. The hearing room on Wednesday was packed with approximately 300 activists opposed to the desalination facility, include activists from the South Orange County, Huntington Beach-Seal Beach, South Bay, Long Beach, and West LA-Malibu Chapters of the Surfrider Foundation. The main controversy surrounds the use of an open ocean intake to supply source water to the facility. Environmentalists would like to see the facility use sub-surface intakes to prevent marine life mortality impacts, however Poseidon claims sub-surface intakes are too expensive; even though the open ocean intake they propose to use is being phased out thanks to statewide regulations.

Surfrider appealed the Poseidon Resources project in 2006 and 2010, and the appeals were finally heard on Wednesday. The Coastal Commission agreed with the Surfrider Foundation’s complaints and sent the project back for more studies and modifications. The Commissioners found that Poseidon’s proposed process to withdraw seawater and discharge the wastewater back into the ocean was unnecessarily harmful.

The Commission made it clear that they viewed seawater desalination as a potential new source of freshwater, but that these new facilities had to be designed with modern technology to avoid impacts to marine life and water quality whenever feasible. Citing the State’s long record of protecting the coast and ocean, Commissioners told Poseidon that if they couldn’t design a facility with 21st century technology, they probably shouldn’t do business in California.

Surfrider is advocating for alternatives to seawater desalination that help restore the environmental health of our coasts and ocean at far cheaper costs to residents and businesses. “We think ocean desalination should be an option of last resort,” said Chad Nelsen, Surfrider's Environmental Director. “Increasing efficiency in water use through conservation and water recycling is a better solution that is less costly, uses less energy and improves the health of the oceans.”

Surfrider's Know Your H2O program was launched to educate the public on the interconnections between water supply, urban runoff and wastewater treatment, and its impact on our coastal environments and the economy. Surfrider is not strictly opposed to seawater desalination, but advocates for preferable alternatives to be fully implemented before seawater desalination. Proposed desalination projects must also be properly located and designed to avoid unnecessary environmental impacts.

For more, check out Desal project stalls at Coastal Commission, published in the LA Times.