Controversial plans must still jump over a few more hurdles, but one agency approval is in tow.
HUNTINGTON BEACH — Poseidon’s plans to build an expensive desalination plant on the Huntington Beach coast took a significant step forward, Oct. 19, when the State Lands Commission recommended the saltwater conversion project move forward.
Building a saltwater-to-freshwater conversion plant in Huntington Beach has not been without controversy. Proponents of Poseidon’s plans have long noted the need for freshwater in a dense urban area, particularly during Southern California’s drought cycles.
Opponents, however, challenge Poseidon’s plans based on its high costs and potential environmental harms.
The desalination plant, which carries a price tag of $1.1 billion, must still garner approvals from the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board and California Coastal Commission before construction can start, but the Oct. 19 State Lands Commission meeting was not without high-charged electricity emanating from people on both sides of the saltwater conversion debate.
Of course California’s coast is dotted with desalination plants, including Poseidon’s already existing saltwater conversion venue in suburban San Diego. A smaller scale plant already exists in Avalon, while discussions have been held to build a desalination venue in Dana Point.
Can Poseidon’s plans to covert saltwater from the Pacific Ocean into drinking water ensure water security for Orange County residents and ultimately be our answer to consistent drought cycles?
Barbara Boxer, California’s former senator, attended the Oct. 19 State Lands Commission meeting and spoke in support of Poseidon’s plans. Boxer, considered a liberal policymaker who supported green policies, said people have a right to oppose the desalination plant but the infrastructure is necessary to address water shortages in one of the country’s most populous regions.
There is no one “silver bullet” solution, however, to California’s rampant drought conditions, according to a 2014 report published by The Pacific Institute, potentially challenging those who see desalination as the answer to water insecurity.
A quick review of Poseidon’s proposal shows the private entity hopes the Huntington Beach desalination plant would provide 50 million gallons of converted freshwater daily. The converted water would be made available to as many as 400,000 residents in and immediately surrounding Huntington Beach.
Orange County’s overall population is about 3.1 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, which begs a few questions. How many desalination plants must we build to provide sufficient freshwater to the larger Southern California market, especially during extreme drought seasons? What is the value of spending $1.1 billion to service 400,000 residents within a region where tens of millions of people live? What do we do with all the salt extracted from the processed saltwater?
Whether desalination is truly a solution to California’s never-ending drought cycles or an economic and environmental hindrance is a complicated issue. Desalination could well be a solution to California’s constant drought battles, but what’s the cost?
The Log broached the merits of desalination in the past but revisits the discussion in light of the recent State Lands Commission.
Sources of Water
Imported water and groundwater are common sources of freshwater for Orange County residents, according to a formal water management plan.
The Metropolitan Water District of Orange County’s Urban Water Management Plan for 2015 stated water from Northern California and the Colorado River are often used to supply local households.
“Imported water provided by Metropolitan from Northern California and the Colorado River meet approximately half of the county’s water needs,” the 2015 management plan stated. “However, this dependence of 50 percent imported water does not apply evenly over the entire service area. South Orange County relies on imported water to meet approximately 95 percent of its water demand. The remaining five percent is provided by surface water, limited groundwater, and water recycling.
“North Orange County relies roughly 30 percent on imported water, as a result of their ability to rely on the Orange County Groundwater Basin to meet a majority of their demands,” the water management plan stated. “The groundwater basin, which underlies north and central Orange County, provides approximately 62 percent of the water needed in that area; with imported water meeting the remaining balance of the water demand.”
An opinion article published in the San Jose Mercury News on Oct. 13 stated Poseidon’s Huntington Beach plant proposal would serve as another viable source of local water, particularly in light of natural disasters.
“Projects like Poseidon Water’s proposed Huntington Beach desalination plant provide innovative solutions to the need for reliable water sources,” the editorial column stated. “The Huntington Beach Desalination Project will not only provide a reliable water supply to Orange County, it will take pressure off environmentally exhausted resources throughout the state, including in Northern California.
“This is an investment for the community that will provide great long-term benefits for all of California, while reducing the region’s dependency on imported water,” the opinion piece continued.
Poseidon’s planned Huntington Beach desalination plant, as mentioned earlier, would likely provide desalinated water to about 400,000 people. Roughly 18 million people called the Los Angeles metropolitan area – which includes Orange County – home in 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The $1.1 billion Huntington Beach desalination plant, accordingly, would provide 50 million gallons of desalinated water to about 2.2 percent of the region’s population, each day.
California might have to seek non-traditional solutions to address the state’s constant battle for water, according to The Pacific Institute.
A 2014 report issued by the Pacific Institute suggested improved efficiency of urban and agricultural water use could help mitigate drought conditions in the future.
The report specifically stated efficient water use practices could go along way in managing California’s extreme pendulum swings between drought and surplus.
“Identifying the technical potential to expand nontraditional supply options and increase water-use efficiency savings is just the first step in tackling California’s water problems,” The Pacific Institute’s 2014 report stated. “Equally, if not more, important is adopting policies and developing programs to achieve those savings.”
The combination of dense urban areas and stretched resources means California needs to reconsider its water delivery infrastructure, The Pacific Institute stated in its report.
“California is reaching, and in many cases has exceeded, the physical, economic, ecological, and social limits of traditional supply options. We must expand the way we think about both ‘supply’ and ‘demand’ – away from costly old approaches and toward more sustainable options for expanding supply, including water reuse and stormwater capture, and improving water use efficiency,” The Pacific Institute’s report on potential water insecurity issues stated.
“There is no ‘silver bullet’ solution to our water problems, as all rational observers acknowledge,” the 2014 report continued. “Instead, we need a diverse portfolio of sustainable solutions. But the need to do many things does not mean we must, or can afford, to do everything. We must do the most effective things first.”