Commentaries: Two opposing views on desalination project

Desalination project offers opportunity to save the Bolsa Chica Wetlands

By Shirley Dettloff

As a former Huntington Beach mayor, past member of the Coastal Commission and a 52-year resident of Huntington Beach, I am supporting Poseidon’s desalination project in Huntington Beach. I have followed the project for all of the years that it has been talked about, studied, researched and have come to the conclusion that it must be supported.

My support comes from a layperson’s knowledge of the project. First, Southern California has been through five years of drought, with the prospect of a sixth year. Water is an absolute necessity when we look at our future. Now we have the opportunity to ensure our citizens that we are supporting another source of water during drought years.

Other countries have already built desalination projects with great success. I am not a scientist, but have asked scientists what the environmental impacts would be and have been assured by many that they would be minimal. Some even have said that bringing water, as we do now from Northern California, is much more damaging than the water brought in for the desalination process.

The proposed desalination project could significantly benefit an important environmental resource in Huntington Beach, the Bolsa Chica Wetlands. I have a special interest in the wetlands, as I am a founding member of the Amigos de Bolsa Chica, whose members spent 40 years saving this important resource.

If the Poseidon project is approved by the Coastal Commission, mitigation will be required. Poseidon has proposed, as a way to meet their mitigation requirements, to provide financial support for the maintenance of the Bolsa Chica inlet for decades to come. This is critical, as we know that the inlet must be kept open if we are to maintain a high-functioning wetland. Ocean waters flowing directly into the wetlands is necessary for the health and on-going success of Bolsa Chica. Although State Lands has been in charge of restoring the wetlands, funding to keep the tidal inlet open for future generations is in doubt.

Sustainability of this important resource is critical, as 90% of California’s wetlands have been lost through development. We must do all that we can to make sure that we do not lose any more of this extremely important habitat. The Bolsa Chica provides a way of improving our water quality by filtering sediment, nutrients and pesticides, protecting our shoreline by increasing resistance to erosion, providing a bird flyway through Orange County and acting as a nursery for a wide variety of fish species. And for humans, it provides a unique open space accessible to the public.

Hopefully the Coastal Commission and Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board, which still need to issue permits and permit renewals respectively for the desalination project, will see the importance of having a sustainable source of water in Orange County and as well as a funding source to ensure the success of the restoration of the Bolsa Chica Wetlands.

SHIRLEY DETTLOFF is a former Coastal Commissioner, former Huntington Beach mayor a founder of the Amigos de Bolsa Chica.


Orange County Should Learn from San Diego’s Mistakes with Poseidon Water

By Julia Chunn-Heer

Poseidon Water has San Diego ratepayers on the hook for the county’s most expensive water for the next 30 years, whether we need that water or not.

While Poseidon’s propaganda machine operates ceaselessly, no amount of spin can conceal the problems that have plagued the first year of the desalination plant in Carlsbad. But those problems haven’t stopped Poseidon from pushing to build a similar plant in Huntington Beach.

Orange County deserves a look at the Carlsbad plant’s short-but-troubled history because they’re currently walking the same path with Poseidon. Here are five ways San Diego consumers have been misled and otherwise let down by Poseidon, and how we know that this history will repeat itself in Huntington Beach:

Making residents pay for unnecessary water.

Carlsbad: When the plant came online earlier this year, our region actually had water exceeding our needs and had to dump half a billion gallons of Poseidon’s costly treated water into a lake near Chula Vista.

Huntington Beach: Orange County’s most recent water plan indicates that Orange County can meet all of its water needs through at least 2040 without investing in a pricey desalination facility.

Failure to offset its huge energy use

Carlsbad: Poseidon claimed that the Carlsbad plant would be carbon neutral by offsetting water that would otherwise be imported. But the amount of water we import has not been reduced.

Huntington Beach: Poseidon is pulling the same argument in Orange County, but ocean desalination uses over 10 times more energy than water recycling, according to an Inland Empire Utilities Agency report.

Polluting our coast and poisoning fisheries

Carlsbad: In less than a year, the Carlsbad desalination plant has had water quality violations, according to the Voice of San Diego.

Huntington Beach: The brine discharge from the plant will degrade water quality and threaten marine life.

Using outdated technology that does not meet current standards

Carlsbad: Last year, California adopted a statewide desalination policy to help minimize harm to the state’s coastline and its wildlife, according to the California Environmental Protect Agency. The nearly completed Carlsbad plant was exempted from the requirement that its seawater intake be placed below the sand rather than exposed to open water — so as water is pulled in, marine life is destroyed.

Huntington Beach: The design of the proposed plant mirrors the same obsolete technology.

Using a billion-dollar desalination plant instead of cheaper, commonsense conservation

Carlsbad: San Diegans cut water use by 25% during the drought. So why did San Diego County Water Authority want a special exemption from conservation targets? To justify its huge and ill-advised bet on desalination.

Huntington Beach: Just this month, the Pacific Institute released a report that confirms desalination is by far the most expensive water supply option available.

On top of this, the Orange County plant is proposed to be built on an earthquake fault in a tsunami run-up zone that is subject to encroaching sea-level rise and Poseidon has not adequately studied alternative sites for the plant. And adding desalinated water would degrade the groundwater aquifer and require the desalinated water to go through a second round of treatment before use.

This month, Poseidon and state permitting agencies finally agreed on the terms of an appropriate review process for the Huntington Beach project. As proposed, the plant is not in compliance with the latest desalination regulations. This process should result in either substantial changes or disapproval of the project.

JULIA CHUNN-HERR is with the Surfrider Foundation‘s San Diego Chapter.