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Poseidon's environmental plan doesn't halt criticism of proposed desalination plant

Poseidon Water announced this week that its proposed ocean desalination plant in Huntington Beach would employ an environmental protection and energy efficiency plan. But that didn’t halt criticism of the controversial facility.

Poseidon said the plan includes several tactics aimed at reducing the environmental footprint of the $1-billion plant proposed at Newland Street and Pacific Coast Highway, including installing as many solar panels and purchasing as much “green” power as allowed by law.

“Poseidon is committed to powering, building and operating the Huntington Beach desalination facility in the most environmentally beneficial way possible — along with bringing significant economic benefits to the region and the state,” Poseidon Water Vice President Scott Maloni said in a statement Wednesday. “We are taking unprecedented steps to protect California’s environment and ensure the project is 100% carbon-neutral and that it is the most energy-efficient large-scale desalination facility in the world.”

The announcement came weeks before the California State Lands Commission considers approving an environmental impact report for the project on Oct. 19.

Ray Hiemstra, associate director of programs for Orange County Coastkeeper, a Costa Mesa-based environmental group, said Thursday that Poseidon’s environmental and energy plans don’t dissuade his group from opposing the plant.

Hiemstra said some of the provisions are beneficial, like using solar panels, but they aren’t unique.

“It’s not like they are doing something cutting-edge,” Hiemstra said. “When it comes down to the areas where they could really make a difference, they are absent.”

Specifically, Hiemstra said, the plant should use a subsurface intake system rather than the proposed open-ocean system. Hiemstra said Poseidon’s system threatens small fish.

In 2015, a panel of experts chosen by the California Coastal Commission and Poseidon determined a subsurface system to be infeasible.

Sunny Jiang, chairwoman of UC Irvine’s Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, said the plan shows Poseidon is working toward making the plant more environmentally sustainable. Research projects in her lab include investigation of seawater desalination biofouling (collection of marine organisms on equipment) and microbial water quality.

“I think they are trying to embrace the newest energy-reduction and environmentally friendly technology,” Jiang said.

While noting the outcry from environmental groups and others throughout the plant’s planning process, Jiang said it’s important for the region to have a drought-proof system of procuring water.

She said the water may not be needed now due to the past year’s rains, but it could be important in the future.

benjamin.brazil@latimes.com

Twitter:@benbrazilpilot

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