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Regional water board to hear update on H.B. desalination project, which study says poses financial risk

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The proposed Poseidon ocean desalination facility would be built near this AES power plant in Huntington Beach.
(File Photo)

About a month after an independent study deemed Poseidon Water’s proposed ocean desalination plant in Huntington Beach the most financially risky compared with other water projects, the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board will hear a status update on the project Friday.

The project has long been disputed by environmentalists, who say the $1-billion plant would harm marine life despite Poseidon’s reassurances that it wouldn’t have a significant impact on sea creatures. Poseidon said it also developed a plan for environmental protection and energy efficiency.

A study released in February by the Fountain Valley-based Municipal Water District of Orange County provided opponents with more reasons to urge area leaders to reject the project, which would be built near the AES power plant off Pacific Coast Highway.

Compared with several other water projects, Poseidon’s is the most expensive and poses the greatest financial risk to ratepayers, according to the study prepared by CDM Smith Inc., a Boston-based engineering and construction company. However, the study didn’t entirely dismiss the project as a potential solution for providing drinking water.

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Poseidon says the plant would produce 50 million gallons of drinkable water a day, enough for 400,000 people.

The study analyzed how reliable and cost-effective water projects would be in four scenarios, including droughts and unplanned outages of key water facilities.

It included the Doheny Ocean Desalination Project in Dana Point, the San Juan Watershed Project in San Juan Capistrano, the Cadiz Water Project in San Bernardino County and the Strand Ranch Integrated Water Banking in Kern County.

When analyzing which project would be the most reliable and beneficial in an emergency scenario in south Orange County — an area facing water challenges, as it is highly dependent on imported water — the South Coast Water District’s Doheny desalination project was deemed the most cost-effective for ratepayers.

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In each scenario, Poseidon was rated the lowest.

According to the 261-page report, the Municipal Water District’s goal was to provide water agencies with an objective comparison of projects to help them make informed decisions.

The report noted the projects are in different stages of development and that its findings wouldn’t be entirely accurate.

Scott Maloni, vice president of Poseidon Water, declined to comment Thursday.

With other options on the table, it wouldn’t be fair for ratepayers to “foot the bill for Poseidon desalination,” Steve Bone, chairman of Costa Mesa-based environmental group Orange County Coastkeeper and former chairman of the Orange County Business Council, said in a statement.

“Orange County was built on a series of smart infrastructure investments,” Bone said. “ As someone working to create jobs and opportunity in this community, I want to see us prioritize water sources that work for local residents and businesses. Poseidon does not meet that standard.”

Poseidon still needs permits from the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board and the California Coastal Commission to officially get the green light for the Huntington Beach project.

Last year, the Orange County Water District board approved an updated and nonbinding term sheet for buying water from Poseidon’s plant. In 2017, the project cleared a major hurdle when it received an endorsement from the California State Lands Commission.

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Friday’s Water Quality Control Board meeting begins at 9:30 a.m. at Huntington Beach City Hall, 2000 Main St.


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