Residents, experts and environmental advocates gathered at a Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board meeting last Friday to oppose a permit for the Poseidon Water desalination facility in Huntington Beach.

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The proposal would grant Poseidon Water a permit for waste discharge requirements for the planned desalination plant. The $1 billion project would supply 100,000 Orange County households with drinking water each year. The project has been delayed for 20 years due to controversy over environmental and cost concerns. 

The regional water board released a 495-page draft permit detailing the prosed project on Nov. 27 with comments initially due Jan. 10. After request for extension, the water board moved the due date to Jan. 21. The board will vote on the project at the end of March.

The Poseidon desalination process withdraws seawater using an existing AES power plant pipe and discharges toxic brine from the desalination process back to the ocean. The pipe can no longer be used by AES after Dec. 31 after state regulations deemed it too damaging to minute marine life. Poseidon agreed to install a 1 mm screen on the existing pipe to deter marine life from being collected and a diffuser for the discharge. 

The Poseidon project complies with the California Ocean Plan standards and that there have been over 100 meetings and 150 unique reports by Poseidon to amend the proposal, said Poseidon Vice President of Project Development Scott Maloni.

Activists and environmental advocates say this project still doesn’t have enough environmental protection. 

“They are using the lowest protection under the law,” said Sean Bothwell, executive director of California Coast Keeper Alliance. “They are still using the same pipe, the same cite, same everything (from the initial proposal).”

Environmental protection organizations such as the California Coast Keeper Alliance instead recommended subsurface intakes, that withdrawal water beneath the ocean floor without pulling in marine organisms. 

The Poseidon desalination plan will not tap into the Santa Ana Basin, like other alternative methods and is 100 percent climate resilient said Vice President of the Orange County Water District Cathy Green. The project reduces the need for imported water by 50%, she said. 

In addition to environmental concerns, residents expressed reservations about costliness. 

Studies by the Municipal Water District of Orange County found the Poseidon project to be the most expensive option in Orange County for clean water.

Earlier during Friday’s meeting, the board also voted to adopt California’s human right to water. This bill stipulates agencies adopt policies that promote quality, accessibility and affordability of drinking water. 

A UCLA study from April said the Poseidon plant could double or triple the cost of water for ratepayers.

High-rates would impact low-income households in Orange County and make water less accessible, said Andrea Leon-Grossman, deputy director of Azul, a Latinx coastal conservation organization. 

25-year Huntington Beach Resident Herb Kleeman said the price is worth having a reliable and independent water source. “What happens if we are cut off from buying from the Colorado River? We are in everybody else’s hands,” he said.

Kleeman, who is part of the Los Angeles/ Orange Counties Building & Construction Trades Council also mentioned the benefit for laborers.

After multiple hours of presentations and public comment, board members didn’t seem ready to make a decision either way because of the lack of actual environmental data of the proposed site. 

“I feel like I need to see more environmental studies,” said board member Lana Ong Peterson. “I can’t get past the fact that the data seems flawed.”

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