Poseidon water plant permit discussion continued to next week

Daniel Selmi of the Santa Ana Regional Water Board makes a point during Friday's virtual meeting.
(Screencap by Matt Szabo)

Both proponents and opponents of the controversial Poseidon Water desalination plant in Huntington Beach made their voices heard Friday in an all-day virtual meeting that continued well into the night.

In the end, however, a decision by the Santa Ana Regional Water Board on whether to permit Poseidon’s $1.4-billion project will have to wait until at least next week.

Another meeting is scheduled for Thursday, with a third meeting on May 13, as necessary.

Water board members listened to dozens of public comments to close out Friday’s meeting, many of them split between pro-Poseidon arguments and anti-Poseidon viewpoints.

One key issue is that under a revised staff recommendation, Poseidon would have to get the necessary environmental permits for its mitigation before the plant begins operations. Poseidon Vice President Scott Maloni said that these restrictions were unreasonable and would make the project infeasible.

Susan Jordan of the California Coastal Protection Network disagreed.

“Poseidon’s desalination plant in Carlsbad started operating in 2015, and almost six years later today, they have yet to begin one iota of mitigation work,” Jordan said. “The Santa Ana Regional Water Board doesn’t have to make the same mistake in Orange County.”

Much of Friday’s meeting indeed centered on Poseidon’s required mitigation efforts, which would include four projects within the Bolsa Chica Wetlands and the restoration of a 41.5-acre rocky reef offshore of Palos Verdes.

Board member William Ruh expressed concerns that 40% of the mitigation efforts would be in Los Angeles County.

Some Huntington Beach locals, as well as former Sen. Barbara Boxer, spoke out earlier Friday in favor of moving the desalination plant forward. They included former Mayor Shirley Dettloff, a former state coastal commissioner and a founding member of the “Amigos de Bolsa Chica” conservation group.

“The wetlands need additional restoration and we must always make sure that the tidal inlet is open and functioning,” Dettloff said.

“If mitigation is approved, the responsibility to keep the tidal inlet open requires that this occur within 12 months of the financing of the project. The mitigation also requires that an additional 20 to 25 acres will also be restored. What we need is a guaranteed funding source if we are to keep the wetlands functioning ... that won’t be held up because of slow permitting processes.”

Mike Posey, a member of the Huntington Beach City Council who said he was speaking to the water board on his own accord, is a board member of the Orange County Power Authority.

“The Huntington Beach Seawater Desalination Plant offers the Orange County Power Authority a significant anchor, tenet, customer, client that we can build our program around,” Posey said.

“The Power Authority can provide the desalination facility with 100% renewable power, making the desalination plant the first large-scale seawater desalination facility in the Western Hemisphere to be powered entirely by renewable energy. That can happen right here in Orange County with Poseidon.

“However, the permit conditions discussed today will not only delay the construction of the desalination facility by over a decade and deny Orange County a hedge against a drought ... it could also interfere with our efforts to ensure a major customer that will help build a robust and sustainable energy program to bring more clean energy into Orange County.”

However, board member Daniel Selmi indicated that he believed that requiring the permits be acquired up front was the correct thing to do.

“What I want to know is why it becomes infeasible for Poseidon to put the effort through to get the permits for the mitigation, and then finance the whole thing at that point,” Selmi said.

“The other alternatives that I’ve seen that were suggested, there’s problems with all of these. There’s problems from Poseidon’s perspective, and there’s problems from our perspective.”

Garry Brown, the founder and president of Orange County Coastkeeper, said his organization supports desalination, just not the Poseidon project.

“The [proposed] Doheny Plant [near Doheny State Beach] is desal done right,” Brown said. “Poseidon is desal done wrong. There is no proven need for this project. There are other future sources of water that are more feasible and far more affordable to all ratepayers.”

Should Poseidon receive the permit from the Santa Ana Regional Water Board, it would still need a permit from the California Coastal Commission before it could begin construction negotiate a contract to sell desalinated water to the Orange County Water District.

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