Judge denies legal challenge against Poseidon desalination plan

Court ruling finds State Lands Commission thoroughly vetted plans to build saltwater-to-freshwater conversion plant.

SACRAMENTO—Orange County Coastkeeper’s legal challenge of the process to bring a desalination plant online on the Huntington Beach coast was rejected, according to a Supreme Court ruling made available to The Log on Jan. 14.

A group of environmental organizations – O.C. Coastkeeper, California Coastkeeper Alliance and California Coastal Protection Network – petitioned a Superior Court judge in Sacramento to effectively block the Poseidon desalination plant from being built by stating the project violated the public trust and, therefore, should not have the State Lands Commission’s blessings.

“The court finds the [State Lands] Commission engaged in a thorough analysis of the proposed [desalination] project, as well as a specific public trust analysis,” Judge Richard K. Sueyoshi stated in his ruling. “The court finds [O.C. Coastkeeper and others] have not sufficiently demonstrated that the commission’s decision was arbitrary or capricious or entirely lacking in evidentiary support or that it failed to follow appropriate procedures with regard to its public trust obligations.”

Sueyoshi added O.C. Coastkeeper’s allegations of public trust doctrine violations were based in previous arguments and discussions. The judge added a Supplemental Environmental Impact Report properly covers the project’s subsurface intakes.

“The evidence before the commission supported a finding that subsurface intakes at the project site are infeasible,” Sueyoshi said in his ruling. “The court also finds that, again, [O.C. Coastkeeper and others] have failed to identify the evidence favorable to the other side and demonstrate why it is lacking. Such a failure to do so is fatal.”

Plans to build the Poseidon plant on Pacific Coast Highway at Newland Street in Huntington Beach also does not require additional environmental review, according to Sueyoshi.

Poseidon’s plan to bring a desalination plant online on the central Orange County coast has been controversial ever since the city of Huntington Beach certified an Environmental Impact Report for the proposed project in 2010. Sueyoshi, in his ruling, described the Poseidon project as “a seawater desalination facility on the site of the power plant owned by AES as well as construction and operation of off-site improvements including ‘water delivery pipeline … [and] underground booster pump stations.”

The Superior Court ruling coincided with a Reuters report stating desalination plants are harmful to the environment.

Alister Doyle, Reuters’ environmental correspondent, in an article headlined “Too much salt: water desalination plants harm environment: U.N.,” stated the estimated 16,000 desalination plants around the world “produce bigger-than-expected flows of highly salt waste water and toxic chemicals that are damaging the environment.”

Doyle’s article cited a United Nations study, released on Jan. 14, showing desalination plants pumped out 50 percent more salty brine (142 million cubic meters) on a daily basis than previous estimates to produce 95 million cubic meters of freshwater.

“The hyper-salty water is mostly pumped into the sea and, over a year, would be enough to cover the U.S. state of Florida with 30 centimeters (one foot) of brine,” Doyle stated in his Reuters article. “Brine, water comprising about 5 percent salt, often includes toxins such as chlorine and copper used in desalination, [the U.N. report stated]. By contrast, global sea water is about 3.5 percent salt.”

Both Doyle and the U.N. study claimed brine cuts oxygen levels in seawater near desalination plants, affecting shellfish, crabs and similar marine life.”

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