Barbara Boxer will lobby for an environmentally controversial desalination plant in Huntington Beach

A Boston-based water development company is paying former Sen. Barbara Boxer to push for approval of a proposed seawater desalination plant that has been mired for years in environmental controversy.

Boxer, a Democrat, will lobby the California Coastal Commission on behalf of Poseidon Water’s private project, which would sell drinking water supplies to Orange County agencies.

“I’m very happy to be on this team,” said Boxer, who earned a reputation as a strong environmentalist during her more than two decades representing California in the U.S. Senate. “Desalination is something I have worked for for a very long time.”

Poseidon is fighting with the Coastal Commission staff over the type of seawater intake the $1-billion plant would use. The company wants to screen an existing power plant intake pipe to pull 106 million gallons a day from the Pacific Ocean and purify it through energy-intensive reverse-osmosis filtration.

The Coastal Commission staff, arguing that that method would kill too many fish eggs and larvae, has recommended that Poseidon instead build an offshore intake to draw water from beneath the ocean floor.

The company says that would drive up costs so much that it would kill the project.

“I’m very worried that if we sit back and we don’t use this tool — desal — what it’s going to mean is big dams that destroy our rivers and our fisheries, and pulling more water from the [Sacramento-San Joaquin] Delta,” Boxer said in an interview.

Poseidon has over the years spent more than $1.6 million on lobbying and campaign contributions in its drive to build the country’s two largest ocean desalters on the California coast.

One plant started operation in San Diego County in 2015. The Huntington Beach project still needs approval from several state agencies, including the Coastal Commission.

“It’s disappointing that Barbara Boxer has decided to become a paid lobbyist on this project,” said Susan Jordan, executive director of the California Coastal Protection Network, an environmental group. “But that doesn’t change the facts. It’s still a bad project.”

bettina.boxall@latimes.com

Twitter: @boxall

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