Regional water board could decide later this year whether a saltwater conversion venue in Huntington Beach would be allowed.
ANAHEIM—Members of the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board will soon consider whether to issue Poseidon Water a permit for its proposed desalination plant in Huntington Beach. Those same board members received an informational presentation on what the Poseidon proposal would look like once it returns to quasi-judicial water agency, Feb. 8.
One board member called the presentation a snapshot of where the proposal at the time of the presentation, and elements of what was presented could change when the quasi-judicial agency re-visits the Poseidon plan for permit approval. Board members also questioned the use of old data supplied to Water Boards staff.
Poseidon’s proposed desalination plant, which would convert saltwater to drinkable freshwater, will be the first-ever of its type in Orange County and the second one of its type in Southern California; the company behind the Huntington Beach proposal is currently operating a desalination plant it built at Carlsbad, which is just north of San Diego.
Regional water boards staff labeled the Poseidon project as “complex” and time-consuming. Poseidon apparently submitted more than 200 documents and reports to the regional water board for review, Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board Executive Director Hope A. Smythe told board members. Updates to the proposed project under consideration include mitigation needs, intake and onshore location.
The plant would occupy 12 acres on Pacific Coast Highway and produce 50 million gallons of potable water daily. The seawater intake required to produce such an amount of potable water, each day: 107 million gallons. The daily brine discharge, accordingly, would be 57 million gallons. Water would be collected via subsurface intake. Brine would be discharged back into the ocean.
The proposed Poseidon plant, under state law, must use best available measures to minimize intake and mortality of all forms of marine life. Poseidon must also abide by a salinity limit and monitoring. Discharged salinity, specifically, must not be greater than two parts per thousand greater than its natural level, within a specified range.
Another requirement: mitigation. Poseidon must, for example, mitigate any loss of marine life of habitat during construction or operation of the desalination plant. The water company must also submit a Marine Life Mitigation plan to the regional water board.
There are two kinds of measures Poseidon is required to follow as part of its mitigation requirements: in-kind and out-of-kind. In-kind mitigation would require Poseidon to create or restore the same type of habitat directly affected by the desalination plant. Out-of-kind mitigation, meanwhile, is where Poseidon would create or restore a habitat “more biologically productive” than directly affected by the plant.
A few outstanding items still remain for Poseidon to address, according to Smythe, such as completing a feasibility analysis and submitting its Marine Life Mitigation Plan. The regional water board expects to have a 45-day public review period. Board members could decide on the desalination plant proposal in late fall.
Barbara Boxer, California’s former U.S. Senator, was present at the regional water board meeting and explained by a project like Poseidon is necessary.
“Climate change isn’t waiting. It’s here. It’s serious,” Boxer told regional water board members. “Clean, drinkable, safe water, that’s the essence of life itself. If you don’t have that you have nothing. It’s a social justice issue.”
Ray Heimstra, the associate director at Orange County Coastkeeper, however, stated his organization and many others are opposed to Poseidon’s Huntington Beach proposal because of the precedent it would set for open ocean intake.
“It’s an extremely expensive proposal that’s not needed,” Heimstra told board members, adding Poseidon isn’t pursuing the best alternatives possible in its plans to convert saltwater to freshwater. “We have to get this right.”
Poseidon, since 2006, has paid the regional water board nearly $1.3 million in discharge fees. Its proposed desalination plant is the first project to be reviewed under the state’s new ocean plan regulations.