Report: Beach and seafloor subsurface intakes won't work for H.B. desalination plant

A study published Monday regarding the controversial proposed desalination plant in Huntington Beach determined that one type of subsurface water intake is infeasible while another type is not economically viable.

The study is the second on the feasibility of subsurface water intake systems at the proposed Poseidon Water plant. The first was finalized in October 2014 and found that beach and seafloor infiltration – two of nine types of subsurface intake systems – deserved further study.

The more recent study was conducted by a panel of six experts selected by California Coastal Commission staff and plant builder Poseidon.

The group wrote that the beach infiltration system — consisting of pipes that lie under the ocean floor near the shore to collect seawater will not work at the proposed location, the AES power plant off Pacific Coast Highway and Newland Street.

The 88-page study, organized by Concur Inc., a Berkeley-based firm that specializes in complex environmental issues, concluded that the coast near the proposed site is unstable and that construction would be difficult due to the surf and weather.

The group also concluded that though a seafloor infiltration system — located further from the shore — would be technically feasible at the location, it would cost $1.9 billion to $2.3 billion to build and $42 million to $58 million annually to operate and maintain, making it economically unsound.

In comparison, an open-water intake system — pipes lying above the ocean floor with a mesh cover to help prevent fish and their eggs from being sucked in — was projected to cost $852 million to $899 million to build and $49 million to $54 million per year for operation and maintenance.

Poseidon has pushed for open-water intakes, using AES' cooling pipes. That plan would not require a new intake system.

The company has estimated that under its plan, the Huntington Beach project's total cost would be $1 billion.

Environmentalists prefer a subsurface intake system, saying it would use the sand as a natural filter and be less detrimental to marine life.

Representatives of the Coastal Commission and Poseidon have agreed not to comment about the new report until it is finalized. The final draft is expected to be completed in the fall after the public has a chance to give input.

Monday was the first day for public comments on the draft report. They will be accepted through Sept. 10, and a final report will be published soon after, according to Concur Inc. principal Scott McCreary.

Concur will hold a public meeting at 9 a.m. Aug. 27 at the Huntington Beach Central Library, McCreary said.

Several supporters of the project, including the South Orange County Economic Coalition and Orange County Water Independence, Sustainability and Efficiency, issued statements minutes after the draft report was released and stated that subsurface intakes are not feasible for the desalination plant because of the costs.

Jerry Wheeler, president and chief executive of the Huntington Beach Chamber of Commerce, wrote in a statement that construction of subsurface intakes would "degrade the local economy" and that Poseidon's original plan is the right choice for the project.

"With the presence of large-scale industrial construction operations on and adjacent to the Huntington Beach recreational area, the [seafloor infiltration system] construction would increase local traffic, negatively impact local recreation and the use of the Huntington Beach shoreline by the public, and potentially cause measureable loss of income to visitor-serving businesses and local tax revenue," Wheeler wrote.

But to representatives of environmental groups Orange County Coastkeeper and the Surfrider Foundation, the latest study shows that the proposed location is not right for a desalination project.

Joe Geever, a consultant for San Clemente-based Surfrider, said it is not a surprise that subsurface intakes would be more expensive than an existing open-water system.

"What the panel should be looking at is where someone should put their plant so that they can use the best available technology," said Ray Hiemstra, associate director of programs for Costa Mesa-based Coastkeeper. "It's not that subsurface wells can't be done in California. It's just this is the wrong place for a desalination plant."

Poseidon needs to obtain a construction permit from the Coastal Commission to build the facility.

The findings of the latest report will be submitted in a Coastal Commission application sometime this fall, Poseidon Vice President Scott Maloni said.

Geever said he has heard that the panel might conduct a third report to look at alternative locations for the project.

McCreary said that both the Coastal Commission staff and Poseidon would need to agree on whether the panel should conduct another study.

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HOW TO COMMENT

The public can comment through Sept. 10 about the new report on subsurface water intake systems for Poseidon's proposed Huntington Beach desalination plant.

To read the report, go to documents.coastal.ca.gov/assets/press-releases/huntington-beach-desal/CCC-Poseidon_ISTAP_Draft_Phase_2_Report_for_Public_Review_8-14-15.pdf.

Comments can be emailed to Scott McCreary at scott@concurinc.net.

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