Final vote on proposed desalination plant permit in Huntington Beach expected in April

A Dec. 6 workshop drew over an hour of public comment on Poseidon Water’s proposed Huntington Beach desalination facility.

HUNTINGTON BEACH—The Santa Ana Regional Water Board held a workshop on Dec. 6 on the permit renewal of Poseidon Water’s proposed Huntington Beach desalination project; the permit is on pace for a final vote in April 2020.

Poseidon Water is seeking to build a $1 billion desalination plant on a 12-acre parcel at the current AES Huntington Beach Generating Station on Newland Street. Previous permits were issued in 2006 and 2012, under which no construction took place. The proposed permit is the third generation of the discharger’s permit.

The facility would produce an average volume of 50 million gallons per day (MGD) of potable water from salt water from the Pacific Ocean through a reverse osmosis process. The plant would use the AES intake and discharge systems, but would be required to modify the systems to reduce intake and mortality to all forms of marine life before beginning operation.

That includes equipping the intake system with a screening system consisting of four 1.0-mm slot wedgewire screens with a through screen velocity of 0.5 feet per second or less. An estimated 56.6 MGD of brine discharge twice the salinity of ocean waters would then be put back into the Pacific Ocean.

The plans now also include mitigation efforts in Bolsa Chica, including the preservation of the Full Tidal Basin through inlet maintenance dredging, restoration of 5.7 acres of subtidal habitat and enhancement of water circulation within the Muted Tidal Basins.

The nearly 500-page draft permit was laid out and comments were delivered from organizations and the public at the Dec. 6 workshop. The workshop began at 11 a.m. and included over an hour of public comments.

“The project has been modified to include new technological advancements and mitigation since the board last approved the permit in 2012,” said Scott Maloni, Vice President – Project Development at Poseidon Water. “Today the proposed facility will use 20 percent less seawater then previously permitted while producing the same amount of drinking water.”

A large group of opponents attended the Dec. 6 workshop. They said the project is expensive, unnecessary, violates policies including the Ocean Plan and would increase water rates for customers.

“MWDOC, the Municipal Water District of Orange County, did a study and what they found is that in Huntington Beach, in this area, we can get by without new water sources with only doing conservation every 20 years,” said Ray Hiemstra, associate director of programs at Orange County Coastkeeper. “So we got a lot of water, so why kill marine life and dump brine and all this other stuff out there?”

Concerns have also been raised about marine life mortality associated with an open ocean intake and discharge of concentrated brine, as organisms, such as plankton, algae, larvae, and eggs are drawn in through the intake and killed when exposed to high pressure and heat inside the desalination system.

“I think staff in the draft permit lose sight of that,” said Sean Bothwell, executive director of the California Coast Keeper Alliance. “That [minimizing marine life mortality] is the most important thing, not public access, not land use, its minimizing marine life mortality.”

Barbara Boxer, California’s former U.S. Senator, is among the project’s supporters, who say the state should be prepared for future droughts.

“And if we do not adapt, adapt that means get ready for the future droughts,” Boxer said. “Those of us who had the chance to do something but failed to act will be haunted, haunted by the impacts.”

Water board members requested follow-up and clarification on the determination of need, as well as additional environmental studies.

“We had the board of directors of one agency say we need this water, then we have a study that says this is last on a list of projects,” said William von Blasingame.

A final decision on the permit is scheduled to happen on April 3, 2020.

Poseidon would also need to obtain a Coastal Development Permit from the California Coastal Commission and enter into a lease agreement with the State Lands Commission for the intake and discharge structures.

Public comments on the proposed desalination plant are being accepted through January 21. They can be submitted by email to RB8PoseidonHB.comments@waterboards.ca.gov, by fax at 951-781-6288 or mail or hand delivery at: Julio Lara, Wastewater Section Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board, 3737 Main Street, Suite 500 Riverside, CA 92501.

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