Possible Water Board hearing on desalination plant is nearing

Public comment period ended in January; California’s leading water agency is expected to vote on Poseidon’s permits in April.

HUNTINGTON BEACH—Those supporting Poseidon Water’s plans to build a saltwater-to-freshwater conversion factory on the Huntington Beach coast certainly hoped the desalination project would be moving forward in earnest by now. A December 2019 vote on the desalination plant was put off, however, and Poseidon would have to wait a few more months before knowing whether it would be allowed to go forward with its ambitious $1 billion project.

Members of the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board are expected to make a decision on Poseidon’s project in April. Will the board finally approve the permits Poseidon has been seeking for several years?

The water board plans to vote on Poseidon’s Huntington Beach desalination proposal on April 3. Board members will be meeting on March 17, as well, though it is unclear whether Poseidon’s desalination proposal would be discussed that day. The March 17 board meeting agenda has not yet been released to the public.

Is there a chance the board postpones its final vote on the Huntington Beach desalination plant again? The board appeared to be poised to issue its final decision on Dec. 6, 2019, but the desalination agenda item turned out to be a public workshop. A large group of people attended the December 2019 workshop and expressed their opposition or support of the Poseidon project.

Opponents argued the Huntington Beach desalination plant would be too expensive, burdensome on water ratepayers and inconsistent with local environmental policies. Some have also argued the desalination plant would harm local marine life.

Supporters, however, say building a desalination plant is necessary, as Southern California consistently faces droughts. Water insecurity, in light of the state’s cyclical droughts, would only be heightened as Southern California’s population is expected to steadily increase during the next few decades.

The public was allowed to continue submitting comments to the Water Boards through Jan. 21 of this year. The Log obtained a 14-page letter submitted to the board on behalf of dozens of organizations, in opposition to the Poseidon desalination plant. Some of the organizations who signed on to the letter included California Coastkeeper Alliance, Orange County Coastkeeper, Natural Resources Defense Council, Surfrider Foundation, Heal The Bay, Los Angeles Waterkeeper, Sierra Club and Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust.

The opposition letter stated the draft desalination plant permit in front of the Water Boards does not minimize marine life mortality and fails to meet the requirements of California’s Ocean Plan Amendment.

Orange County also does not have an “identified need” for an ocean desalination plant, the letter continued.

“In both normal years and single dry years, [Municipal Water District of Orange County’s] available water supply ‘is 100 percent reliable for normal year demands from 2020 through 2040.’ Even in a multi-year drought, ‘MWDOC is capable of meeting all customers’ demands with significant reserves held by Metropolitan and conservation in multiple dry years from 2020 through 2040 with a demand increase of 6.0 percent from normal condition with significant reserves held by Metropolitan and conservation,’” the multi-organization opposition letter stated.

“In a recent presentation to the MWDOC Board of Directors, MWDOC staff calculated

only a 30 percent likelihood that available supplies may not meet demand in 2040,” the letter continued.

Poseidon Water, in January, submitted its own letter to the Water Boards, responding to various questions posed about the project.

One asked question: “Why didn’t Poseidon Water consider or propose a volume of product water less than the proposed 50 [million gallons per day]?”

“Reducing the facility size would not produce a sufficient amount of desalinated water to satisfy regional water supply planning goals and would result in a cost of water that would not be acceptable to Orange County water purveyors,” Poseidon Water staff said in reply.

Poseidon Water was also asked about what cost consumers would face should the 50-million-gallon-per-day desalination plant come online.

“The [Huntington Beach desalination plant] would be a large single source of water for the Orange County region. However, the facility’s 50 [million gallons per day] capacity only represents approximately 15 percent of the water supply within the [Orange County Water District] service territory and a smaller percentage countywide,” Poseidon Water staff said. “No retail water agency or consumer will be replacing 100 percent of their current water supply with desalinated water from Huntington Beach.

“The estimated household consumer cost of desalinated water under the Water Purchase Agreement term sheet contemplated by Poseidon and [Orange County Water District] is $2.70 per month, per household with a high range of $3-6,” Poseidon Water staff continued.

A few other questions were posed and addressed. Whether Poseidon Water’s responses to the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board’s questions are satisfactory – or if the opponents’ concerns are strong enough to slow down the desalination plant proposal – will be determined in the next few weeks.

The proposed desalination plant, if approved, would be built at the old AES Huntington Beach Generating Station at the corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Newland Street. Poseidon Water’s proposed plant would cost $1 billion to build and produce 50 million gallons of freshwater per day, on a 12-acre site.

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One thought on “Possible Water Board hearing on desalination plant is nearing

  • February 20, 2020 at 12:03 pm
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    The Poseidon project’s growth inducing effects are unknown. The position Poseidon has taken is they will offer water for sale. The use of the waters will be decided by that purchaser(s) of their water. Growth inducing effects include population growth which in southern California will mean high density apartment and condominiums projects. The California Department of Housing and Community Development has issued their Regional Housing Needs Assessment RHNA) for southern California. The state is mandating southern California cities and counties each do their share by zoning land to accommodate 1.3 million new housing units by 2029 (Then a new additional housing allocation will occur). Each city and county is required to do their fair share with priority given to in-fill develop in urban areas (example: Orange County). The southern California Association of Governments is in the process of assigning each city and county their fair-share of the RHNA allocation. For example Newport Beach’s draft RHNA allocation is 4,800 new housing units, 41% must be affordably priced. In order for southern California to continue to grow, southern California needs more water. One alternative is desalinization (Poseidon), another is recycling waste water into drinking water. I don’t favor more growth, more traffic, congestion and air quality impact. While Poseidon has deferred identifying the use of the water to the purchaser, it is obvious the water will support new development.

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