HUNTINGTON BEACH, CA (AP) – A California coastal commission on Wednesday rejected a long-running proposal to build a $1.4 billion seawater desalination plant to turn Pacific Ocean water into drinking water as the state grapples with an ongoing drought that is expected to worsen in the coming years. with climate change.
The state’s coastal commission voted unanimously to deny permission for Poseidon Water to build a 50 million gallons of water per day plant in Huntington Beach, southeast of Los Angeles.
Poseidon said she was disappointed with the decision.
“California continues to face a drought with no end in sight,” the company said in a statement. Every day, we see new calls for conservation as reservoir levels drop dangerously low. We firmly believe that this desalination project would have created a sustainable and drought-resistant water source.”
The vote came after a heated meeting in front of the committee attended by dozens of supporters and critics of the plan. It was seen as a crucial decision about the future of the plant after years of hearings and other delays.
Poseidon’s long-standing proposal has been supported by Governor Gavin Newsom, but has faced stiff opposition from environmentalists who have said that withdrawing large amounts of ocean water and releasing salty discharge back into the ocean would kill billions of micro-organisms that make up the food base. Chain along a wide swath of coast.
“The ocean is already under attack” from climate change, Commissioner Dina Bochko said. “I can’t say in good conscience that this amount of damage is okay.”
Other critics said the water would be expensive and not much needed in the area where it would be built, which relies less on state and federal water due to an abundant aquifer and water recycling program.
The commissioners cited these issues in following the staff recommendation and rejecting the proposal. They also noted the energy cost of running the station and the fact that it would be located in an earthquake fault zone.
Before the vote, the 12-member panel heard hours of commentary from dozens of people who thronged to a hotel meeting room in the Costa Mesa Orange County as well as those keeping tabs on the Internet.
At the meeting, supporters wore orange and yellow construction jackets and carried signs saying “Support Sweetness!”
The opponents carried placards reading “La Poseidon” and “Don’t kill our coast.” Among them was a woman dressed as Plankton holding a sign reading “I’m a Plankton – Please don’t kill me!”
California has spent most of the past fifteen years in drought conditions. The usual rainy season from late autumn to the end of winter has been particularly dry this year and as a result 95% of the state is classified as in severe drought.
Newsom last summer urged residents to cut consumption by 15%, but since then water use has fallen only about 3%. Some areas are beginning to put in place moderate restrictions in general such as limiting the number of days the lawn can be irrigated. The stricter restrictions will likely come later in the year.
Much of California’s water comes from melting ice and with much less snow mass than usual, state officials told water agencies they would only get 5% of what they requested from the state water supply. In excess of what is required for vital activities such as drinking and bathing.
Desalination takes ocean water and removes salt and other elements to make it drinkable. These elements are discharged back into the sea, while the water can be directed directly to consumers or used to replenish the aquifer. The nation’s largest seawater desalination plant is already operating in neighboring San Diego County, and there are also coastal plants in Florida.
The idea of desalination has been discussed for decades in Huntington Beach, a coastal community southeast of Los Angeles known as “Surf City USA” that relies on its sands and waves for tourism. The project discussion has also recently focused on the impact of climate change on regional water supplies and on sea level rise in the low-lying coastal area where the station will be built.
More than two decades ago, Poseidon proposed building two desalination plants—one in San Diego County, and one in Huntington Beach. San Diego County plant has been approved and built, desalinated water now accounts for 10% of San Diego County Water District water supplies.
But the Huntington Beach project has faced many delays. In 2013, the Coastal Commission expressed concerns that the proposed use of drag structures to rapidly withdraw large volumes of water from the ocean would harm marine life. Poseidon, owned by Brookfield Infrastructure Partners, conducted additional studies and resubmitted the plan with a proposal to mitigate marine damage by restoring nearby wetlands.
Last month, committee members released a 200-page report opposing the project, arguing that it did not comply with marine life protection and policy policies aimed at reducing risks from tsunamis and rising sea levels.
On Thursday, some also discussed the extent of domestic demand for desalinated water. Orange County has an extensive groundwater basin and recycles wastewater, making the area less dependent on water imported from San Diego. The Orange County Water Districtwhich said it intends to purchase Poseidon’s water, operates a basin that helps meet about 75% of water demand in the northern and central parts of the county.
Poseidon asserts that the region will benefit from securing a drought-resistant water source as well as local communities and countries that can gain increased access to imported water supplies once the county can tap the desalinated water. Desalinated water is getting more expensive now, said Orange County Water Chief Steve Sheldon, but he expects the cost of imported water to also rise over time.