Desalination Plant is close to approval

After getting approval from a regional water board last week, Poseidon Resources is one permit away from starting construction on a desalination plant in Huntington Beach, a spokesman for the company said.

The Poseidon plant, which has divided residents and environmental groups over the past decade, would convert seawater into drinkable water to provide a steady supply for Orange County.

Brian Lochrie, a spokesman for the Connecticut-based company, said Poseidon will start the construction phase of the project if the California Coastal Commission approves a coastal development permit.

The Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board voted Friday to renew a five-year permit that would allow the Poseidon plant to draw in water from the neighboring AES power plant's pipes. In addition, the new permit features an amendment that would let Poseidon take in water directly from the ocean.

The ruling, Lochrie said, left him optimistic about Poseidon's chances for state approval.

"Every time we achieve another success in the permitting process, that's one step closer to creating a new reliable water source for Huntington Beach and Orange County," he said. "We're now one permit away from having regulatory approval to begin construction on the project, so we're pleased the regional board relied on facts and science to come to their determination. We look forward to the Coastal Commission doing the same."

Lochrie said he expects Poseidon to go before the commission by the end of the year. If approved, the project would likely be completed by 2017, he said.

The desalination plant would aim to produce 50 million gallons of drinkable water a day, exclusively for Orange County.

Huntington Beach would have a special agreement to buy its first 3,300 acre-foot of water at 5% less than the cost of imported water, Lochrie said. An acre foot of water is about what it takes to supply a family of four for a year.

Orange County Coastkeeper, Surfrider Foundation and Residents for Responsible Desalination are among those who have fought Poseidon's plans in recent years. Opponents have said the plant will prove costly to taxpayers and harmful to marine life.

Joe Geever, the water programs manager for Surfrider Foundation, said his group and others will likely appeal the regional board's decision in the coming weeks.

One point of contention, he said, is that the plant would use once-through cooling, a method of drawing in and recycling seawater that the State Water Resources Control Board voted two years ago to phase out in power plants.

The ruling did not apply to desalination plants, but Geever said that amounted to a loophole for Poseidon.

"We're not opposed to using ocean desalination if there's a niche to be filled," he said. "But it has to be done in a way that complies with the law."

The staff report from the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board estimates the plant's daily impingement on fish and shellfish at 0.78 pounds, or less than 25% of the daily diet of one brown pelican. Geever, though, said he considered the numbers unimportant.

Last year, Coastal Commission staff members said they believed the Poseidon site in southeastern Huntington Beach contained wetlands.

Lochrie said this week that the city had found no wetlands on the property and that the company is preparing a response on the matter to submit to commission staff.

Michael.miller@latime.somc

Twitter: @michaelmillerHB

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