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Desalination: Poseidon still trying to plant its trident into Huntington Beach

State Water Board delays Oct. 25 public hearing on proposed saltwater conversion plant; a town hall is scheduled for Oct. 15.

HUNTINGTON BEACH—Southern California was hit with enough rain in 2019 for many experts and observers to declare an end to the region’s most recent drought – which could be bad news for Poseidon Water’s plans to build a desalination plant near land’s edge in Huntington Beach. It is hard to drum up a lot of noise for water security when we’re not in a drought. The current state of Southern California’s water security – or insecurity – certainly isn’t giving Poseidon any ammunition to make its case for a $1 billion desalination plant in Huntington Beach.

Southern California’s droughts, of course, are cyclical, so the day will come again when Poseidon will be able to play its water insecurity card. A lack of a drought today, just the same, isn’t going to derail Poseidon’s quest to build a desalination plant in Huntington Beach.

It’s been a while since The Log has covered Poseidon’s plans to build a massive desalination plant on the central Orange County coast. Here’s a quick refresher: a private water company is charging an Orange County public entity $1 billion to build a saltwater conversion plant in Huntington Beach, allowing the county to offer 50 million gallons of freshwater daily to nearly 500,000 people for the next 50 years. The freshwater would, of course, be available when nature offers the region a drought.

Our most recent drought being declared officially over, however, has definitely altered Poseidon’s momentum to bring its billion-dollar Huntington Beach plant online. It’s hard to have any urgency for a drought-immune saltwater-to-freshwater conversion plant when there isn’t a drought.

To rely upon this logic, just the same, to explain the most recent delays in Poseidon’s public permitting process would not be fair. There are certainly a variety of factors why California’s State Water Board has delayed an upcoming public hearing on Poseidon Water’s desalination plant proposal – and The Log knows not all of those factors.

Here we are, nonetheless: an Oct. 25 public hearing on Poseidon’s draft permit for the Huntington Beach desalination plant has been postponed. Ray Hiemstra, who is Orange County Coastkeeper’s associate director, confirmed with The Log the draft permit would likely be available by the end of November. A public hearing on the draft permit would be held Dec. 6, assuming nothing changes in the next eight to 10 weeks.

The Log reached out to the State Water Board’s designated representative on the Poseidon desalination project, hoping to gain more insight as to status of the project and what could be expected when the next public hearing is officially held. The Water Board’s designated representative for the Poseidon desalination proposal – Mark Smythe – confirmed the state agency is still working on a draft permit.

“We are developing the draft permit and supporting documents with Regional and State Board staff. Our goal is to have draft documents out before the end of the year for public comment,” Smythe told The Log in an email. “Our process will then include review and response to comments that may result in revisions to the draft permit and supporting documents as appropriate, and then the revised draft permit and supporting documents can go to the board to consider for adoption.”

Opponents of the proposed Poseidon desalination plant in Huntington Beach have posed several questions about the project: it’s too expensive; it’s the least reliable water supply alternative; and, the plant would cause extensive damage to the ocean environment.

Groups such as Orange County Coastkeeper and Surfrider Foundation have also contended cheaper and better water supply alternatives are available for Orange County to pursue.

UCLA’s Luskin Center for Innovation published a report in April, stating the proposed desalination plant would be harmful to low-income ratepayers.

Poseidon, meanwhile, contends its desalination operation – both the one already operational in San Diego County and the other proposed in Orange County – is one tool in the shed to be used in California’s fight against cyclical drought conditions. Gov. Gavin Newsom, for example, issued an executive order in April, directing his administration to “think differently” and “act boldly” in developing “a comprehensive strategy to build a climate-resilient water system.”

A press release issued by Poseidon two days after Newsom’s executive order stated the private water company fits squarely within the governor’s directive.

“Gavin Newsom delivered an executive order to develop a strategy for climate-resilient water system. We couldn’t agree more and the implementation of seawater desalination in California is a great first step,” Poseidon Vice President Scott Maloni said in the released statement. “Desalination has been adopted by [more than] 120 countries, with places like Israel and United Arab Emirates relying on it for the majority of their potable water.”

Either way, the fate of Poseidon’s Huntington Beach plant could well be decided on Dec. 6. There is still time, accordingly, to voice your opinion on the proposed plant.

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4 thoughts on “Desalination: Poseidon still trying to plant its trident into Huntington Beach

  • Dale Williams

    We may not be in a drought now but anyone who has lived in this state for 65 years as I have know another drought is predictable. Don’t be short sighted.

  • Yes, drought inevitable. Yes, Poseidon is attempting to take advantage of the discounted power from AES as we were duped into exempting them from natural gas taxes during the Enron debacle. Every other entity in HB pays the tax … imagine how much revenue the city loses now … and how much it will sacrifice as power for this energy intensive process is fed to Poseidon without benefit (in water or tax revenue) to the municipality most impacted by infrastructure.
    That incredible scenario is exemplary of the private-public partnerships where public always seems to be outmanuevered by appropriately profit seeking capitalists. No desire here to staunch capitalists – just concern that taxpayers always get the bill. That’s not hard earned profit … It’s arbitrage – leveraging taxpayers for risk free returns.
    Ok, set those dynamics aside. Given the risk free nature of the project (Poseidon can, after all, simply go bankrupt if we refuse to rescue it from purchasing agreements that do not yield profitability) and the demands of a growing population that guarantees our water districts will maintain the output (reclamation could do the same thing but that’s a whole ‘nother issue) why would the additional expense and far lesser environmental impacts of a subsurface system like that proposed for south county desalination project be a non-starter for Poseidon? See points above and sense a much shorter-term perspective on this public-private “partnership” from the private side … I’m just an avid news reader with a memory. It was only 10 years ago that Moorlach and others put the kibosh on the contrived sale of toll roads on public lands from private investors to a non-profit entity … presumably because profits were not coming fast enough for the private investors. Will Moorlach and his kind be around to shut down similar maneuvers in the future? It will likely be necessary. A technologically feasible sub-sand surface water sourcing system will at least protect local HB beaches while the finance battles rage on.
    Oh, yeah, what to do with the output from desalination? Reclamation has that solved with current waste stream output. Reclamation is – by demand and billing – scalable, in place, environmentally proven and completely publicly owned, operated and financed with zero risk that taxpayers will get duped by impatient but God-bless-America-we-definitively-need-’em profit oriented capitalists.

    Let’s just recognize they need to play in separate sandboxes … or beaches!


    Poseidon is yesterday’s tech & not terribly effective. Carlsbad still doesn’t produce 50mgd & quality issue persist. Originally Poseidon gave a cost of $1,100 per acre foot and finally signed at $2,400. Most recent cost was $2,700. There is lots of hot tech underway to build generation 2 desalination. Scrap Brookfield’s Posedion in HB now and take new bidders if the area needs it in 3 years. OCWD’s GRWS meets local needs for 7-10 years.



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Standing Watch/Take Action

In this section you will find resources and supplemental information on what you can do to Take Action. Submit additional information or tips on this issue to

Orange County Coastkeeper and Residents for Responsible Desalination will be holding a town hall meeting on Oct. 15; contact either organization (information below) to find out more about the meeting, including location. Natural Resource Defense Council Staff Attorney Damon Nagomi will be on hand to talk about the Poseidon Water desalination plant. The town hall will start at 7 p.m. It would be worth attending to find out the latest of what’s going on with the proposed desalination plant. Contact the people below to find out more about the Huntington Beach plant.

The Santa Ana Regional Water Board meets on Oct. 25 and Dec. 6. Poseidon’s draft permit would be presented at the Dec. 6 meeting, short of any other delays.

Orange County Coastkeeper

Ray Hiemstra



State Water Board

Mark Smythe



Residents for Responsible Desalination


Surfrider Foundation

Mandy Sackett



Poseidon Water

Jessica Jones



Larissa Olsen



California Coastal Protection Network

Susan Jordan



Orange County Water District