Know Your H20, Desalination, Legal
December 23 2011

Surfrider Foundation Briefs the Appellate Court for Marine Life Protection

by Angela Howe

On December 28, 2011, Surfrider Foundation filed an appellate brief articulating our opposition to the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board’s approval of the Carlsbad Desalination Plant without proper analyses of the appropriate site, design, and technology that would minimize harm to coastal resources.  Additionally, the project approval allowed for after-the-fact mitigation of marine life mortality instead of before-the-fact minimization of such harm, as called for by the state’s water protection law, the Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act.

The project proponent, Poseidon Resources, did not choose the best site possible because they did not take a meaningful look at site alternatives, including sites that would allow sub-seafloor intake of ocean water.  The project also wasn’t required to have the best design possible, which would minimize velocity of intake flows for starters.  Finally, the technology-forcing statute was not invoked to require sub-seafloor intake even though this is the least harmful method of intake, sparing many of our precious coastal resources and marine life.  When looking at alternatives, the Water Board did not even require the project proponent Poseidon to quantify the expected reduction of marine life mortality attributed to certain technologies.

The result of the permitted plant means countless destruction of marine life through this energy intensive process.  The mortality occurs through impingement and entrainment.  When the seawater enters the open ocean intake structure, it passes through inlet screens called “bar racks” at the mouth of the inlet; after that the ocean water passes through fine vertical traveling screens further inside.  Then entrainment occurs through the heating process further down the line in the system.  Virtually no marine life survive this grueling process, and 300 million gallons are withdrawn from the ocean to make 50 million gallons of potable water everyday.

With this appeal, a new judge will be able to review the Water Board’s decision to permit the Carlsbad Desalination Plant and decide whether the analysis truly conformed with the Porter-Cologne mandate in section 13142.5(b) requiring coastal industrial facilities to use the “best available site, design, technology, and mitigation measures feasible to minimize the intake and mortality of all forms of marine life.”

A response brief is expected within 45 days, and the briefing will culminate in a hearing before the Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District in San Diego.

For more information on desalination and our Know Your H2O project, click here

For more information on Surfrider San Diego’s campaign to protect ocean resoures through opposition to the Carlsbad Desalination plant, click here.

photo: © irabel8/Shutterstock