Desalination plant reportedly on list of Trump's priority projects

A document purportedly leaked by the Trump administration identifies the proposed Poseidon Water desalination plant in Huntington Beach as a priority project for the new president's private-public partnership agenda.

The document, titled "Emergency and National Security Projects," lists 50 projects around the country that total about $137.5 billion. According to the report, 50% of the funding would come from private sources.

The proposed $1-billion Poseidon Water desalination project, which would be built next to the AES power plant at Newland Street and Pacific Coast Highway, taking advantage of some of that facility's infrastructure, is listed as No. 44 on the document.

The proposal has been mired in controversy for years.

People who support it say building a facility that would produce 50 million gallons a day of salt-free water is a logical direction to take in a state that has suffered through years of drought as competition for water from the Colorado River intensifies.

Those against the plant fear harm to marine life and the rest of the ocean environment.

The leaked document describes the plant as a "cost-effective environmentally sensitive solution to provide a safe and reliable water supply to Orange County residents and has the potential to bring significant economic benefits for the city of Huntington Beach and the region."

Poseidon Vice President Scott Maloni said Wednesday that he was surprised to see the project on the list but called the inclusion "consistent with longstanding bipartisan support in California and Washington."

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa), who represents the 48th congressional district, which includes Huntington Beach, could not be reached for comment Wednesday because he was at a Republican retreat, his spokesman Ken Grubbs said. Grubbs said the desalination project is one that he "would likely support."

In a news release, Orange County Coastkeeper, an environmental group that opposes the desalination plant, said Wednesday that the federal document contains false data on the project.

According to the leaked document, it would cost $350 million to build the plant, which would create 400 jobs. But, according to Coastkeeper, the Orange County Water District determined it would cost $1 billion to construct the plant and it would create 18 full-time jobs and 322 indirect jobs following construction.

Ray Hiemstra, associate director of Coastkeeper, said in an interview Wednesday that he doesn't think Trump's list will have any influence on the approval process that Poseidon is currently going through.

"It really doesn't change much," Hiemstra said. "There are no federal permits that they are seeking, and they still need the state permits."

Poseidon Water is waiting for the completion of a supplement to an environmental impact report that was finished in 2010. The supplement addresses the effect of new technologies added to the proposal since the original EIR. Maloni said Wednesday that the supplemental EIR is expected to be completed in March.

Then, in June, the California State Lands Commission will hold a hearing, Maloni said.

In order to move forward with the project, the plant needs permits from the Lands Commission, the Santa Ana Regional Water Board and the California Coastal Commission.

When asked if state agencies might fast-track projects based on federal advice, Hiemstra said he doesn't think that would happen, especially in light of Gov. Jerry Brown's vow to fight the Trump administration over any effort to roll back progress on fighting climate change.

Maloni similarly said that because the permits needed for the project are state-based, Trump's inclusion of it on the priority list will not affect the process.

benjamin.brazil@latimes.com

Twitter: @benbrazilpilot

Copyright © 2017, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World