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A Tale of Two Cities and their Desalination Plants

The California Coastal Commission’s “yays and nays”.

Huntington Beach: Twenty years ago, The Poseidon Water Company, wanting to build a desalination plant in Orange County, set its sights on a location adjacent to the Huntington Beach Energy Project, a natural gas power station, on the city’s industrial south end.

It was anticipated that the plant would provide 50 million gallons of potable water to just over 200,000 residents. It would sustain North Orange County with water through drought periods and bring overall relief to the water situation in California.

After engaging the city for several years, the city of Huntington Beach granted conditional use and coastal development permits in 2010. Along the way, the Poseidon project found support with the Orange County Water District which authorized its staff to hire and execute contracts with consultants to review water distribution from the plant. The Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board ruled the design technology and site was the best use available and that the mitigation measures to minimize the mortality of marine life, feasible. It also found that the plant complied with the state’s Human Right to Water policies.

The Poseidon Water Company took all the permitting steps but needed the greenlight to proceed with building, from the California Coastal Commission. The commission gathered in Costa Mesa in May to consider the Coastal Development Permit Application put forward by The Poseidon Company. The unanimous vote against the application by the Poseidon Plant brought the long sought project to an end.

The commissioners cited the impact on marine life and the ocean, the households living near the industrial areas and the rise in water rates. It was this final consideration, the water rates, that put the final nail in the coffin for the desalination plant.

A 200-page report presented by Senior Environmental Scientist Tom Luster put the spotlight on the environmental injustice of poorer households having to pay higher rates for desalinated water.

Dana Point: Five months after the quashing of the Poseidon Desalination Plant, the California Coastal Commission approved the Doheny Ocean Desalination Project in Dana Point which will be operated by the South Coast Water District. This plant promises 5 million gallons of desalinated water per day to serve 40,000 residents.

The Doheny Ocean Desalination Project was found by the California Coastal Commission to address potential harm to marine life with low velocity wells fully buried beneath the ocean floor. The commission required a dozen conditions, one of them being that the South Coast Water District create a 7.5 mile tidal wetland as part of their approval.

Officials noted that the Doheny Plant tied into existing municipal lines. The Poseidon Plant was a private company. Doheny’s environmental design was deemed a better design by officials.

The Doheny Ocean Desalination Project as it stands is estimated to cost residents about $7 more. Construction is expected to be completed by 2027.

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