Poseidon’s desalination deal with Orange County holds a hidden cost: the taxpayer money required to build structures that hold back the ocean in thirty years.
The facts of global sea level rise is no longer up for debate, we’re simply managing the damage now. Our county incurs more infrastructure damage and road closures from higher tides with each passing year.
On January 22, king tides — the highest tides of the year at 6.32 ft. above mean high tide — give us a crystal ball view into the height of our everyday tides in 20 - 50 years. Just like the king tides of last November, today you may see water covering portions of Pacific Highway and water lapping at the doorways (or beyond) of coastal homes and businesses.
Anyone who visits the proposed Huntington Beach location for the Poseidon Plant will see the ocean rising right up to the planned location. That’s because Huntington Beach is the second-most vulnerable piece of coastline to sea level rise in the state. If Orange County signs Poseidon’s deal, the County may also be agreeing to foot the enormous future bill required to back peddle from an ever-encroaching ocean.
If built at Poseidon’s current site proposal, in 25 to 50 years the plant could require expensive structural protective barriers such as seawalls, groins, breakwaters and other coastal armoring structures that will need regular maintenance and further additions as sea level continues to rise over the plant’s 50-year contract.
The United States Geological Survey predicts the site is also vulnerable to major flooding damage in the event of a 100 year storm event with sea level rise, meaning there is a 50 percent chance the plant will experience serious flooding. Additionally, the site for the Poseidon plant lies in a tsunami run up zone and sits directly on the south branch of Newport-Inglewood fault, an area with high liquefaction potential, meaning that when earthquakes strike, the land could turn to a quicksand consistency.
Even if Orange County was in desperate need of desalinated ocean water, the current plan is, at best, irresponsible. And Orange County doesn’t need desalination to provide a drought-proof water supply. Siting concerns aside, Poseidon’s desalination plan is the least efficient, most expensive, most energy intensive, most polluting option on the table.
We can invest less than the cost of Poseidon but with greater water returns by expanding our existing world-renowned wastewater-recycling program. Billions of gallons of our treated wastewater is dumped into the ocean every day. Instead of paying top dollar to suck it back out of the ocean and treat it again, we can recycle it back into a pure, drought-proof supply. It’s cheaper for the cities and ratepayers, less energy intensive and much more sustainable. It’s the smart, innovative option that could place Orange County back in its position as a global leader in water supply technology.
Today, you can see the impacts of flooding on the site firsthand along the Pacific Coast Highway in Sunset Beach and the Newport Peninsula to Newport Boulevard. While you view the king tides, consider the economic and environmental ramifications of building the desalination plant in Huntington Beach.
Snap a picture of the high tides, and voice your opinion on social media with #SayNOtoPoseidon. Let’s stand up for Orange County’s future.
Ray Hiemstra is Orange County Coastkeeper's associate director of programs. Ray has a B.A. in Geography (1998) and a certificate in Environmental Studies (2000) from California State University Long Beach. He has run water quality research and advocacy projects throughout the Santa Ana Watershed and is a member of a number of boards and committees including the Port of Los Angeles Harbor Safety Committee and Newport Bay Watershed Management Committee.
Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue please contact Voice of OC Publisher Norberto Santana at firstname.lastname@example.org.