Coastal Commission Recommends Denial of Huntington Beach Desalinization Plant

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‘If this recommendation stands, it will effectively be the death knell for desalination in California’

A California Coastal Commission staff report released on Monday urged the CCC panel to vote against approving the Poseidon Water desalination plant in Huntington Beach, potentially depriving Southern California of a major future source of freshwater.

The Poseidon Water project, which would convert seawater to drinkable water, was first proposed in the early 2000’s and has been the subject of seven lawsuits and dozens of local efforts to stop the plant since 2005. Major changes were made in subsequent years, including large ones recommended by the CCC in 2013. Following the opening of a Carlsbad desalinization plant in 2015, the project went into the final stages, with plant approval flip-flopping between being approved and not approved by various courts in the late 2010’s. Finally, in 2021, the California Third District Court of Appeals ruled that the desalinization plant could be constructed. However, a few final hurdles remained, including the crucial CCC vote. Originally scheduled for March, the meeting was pushed back by two months earlier this year.

Before the vote, CCC staff put together a report that was finally issued Monday. Siding with environmentalists against the plant, the CCC staff report said that the plant raised too many environmental issues, as well as environmental policies and potential natural disasters caused them to recommend not approving the plant.

“This project raises significant and complex coastal protection policy issues including conformity with policies that require protection of marine life, water quality, environmentally sensitive habitat areas, and policies meant to avoid or minimize hazards associated with sea level rise, floods, tsunamis, and geologic hazards,” the staff reported on Monday.

While the staff recommendations will not necessarily mean that the CCC will vote against the plant during the May 12th meeting, the CCC panel rarely goes against staff recommendations, meaning that the panel will likely vote to not approve the plant.

Praise, opposition against CCC Panel recommendations

Environmentalists and those opposed to the plant praised the decision on Monday.

“It’s time for Poseidon Water to recognize the deep and irrevocable flaws with this project, cut its losses and publicly recognize this project and this site are not good for Huntington Beach or California – it’s time to shut it down for good,” said executive director of the California Coastal Protection Network Susan Jordan on Monday.

Meanwhile, Poseidon Energy, which has spent $100 million to date to get the Huntington Beach plant in place for the last 2 decades, said, “No water infrastructure project in the state of California has ever undergone this level of study and scrutiny. If this recommendation stands, it will effectively be the death knell for desalination in California.”

Many utility and water experts also decried the CCC recommendation on Monday.

“California needs freshwater, that’s for certain,” said Alonzo Taylor-Morgan, a water control specialist, to the Globe on Monday. “This is a very viable idea that has been proven to work as we’ve seen in Carlsbad and elsewhere. But it’s pretty clear that the environmental issues with the plant in Huntington Beach, which there are some, are not as dire as they are making it sound. They forgot to address what 50 million gallons a day of freshwater would do for SoCal. It wouldn’t solve the water crisis, but it would put one hell of a dent in it.”

“They’re going with their hearts on this one rather than facts and logic, and that’s distressing. There are some environmental issues, but the bigger issue is what drought can do to Orange County and LA and San Diego. They’re ignoring the human factor, and that is very concerning.”

The CCC panel vote on approval on disapproval of the Huntington Beach plant will occur on May 12th.

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