ORANGE COUNTY, CA—Today California Coastkeeper Alliance released three new expert reports that identify significant flaws with the Huntington Beach desalination plant proposed by privately-owned Poseidon Water. The reports were submitted to the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board, which along with the California Coastal Commission must approve the project before it can be built.
In order to save money, Poseidon wants to use the antiquated open ocean pipe at Huntington Beach Generating Station to draw in seawater. These pipes—built for seawater cooling—are now outlawed for use by power plants because they suck up millions of small fish and shellfish that form the base of the ocean food web. State policy requires new desalination plants to use the “best available site, design and technology” to minimize harm to sea life, including intake pipes buried under the ocean floor. Poseidon has requested an exemption from this rule, but the expert reports show there are no grounds for an exemption. Furthermore, they found no real need for the 50 million gallons per day Poseidon proposes to produce.
An analysis by environmental scientist James Fryer found that the water demand forecasts that Orange County Water District is using to justify the billion-dollar deal with privately-owned Poseidon Water are outdated and inflated. Orange County’s demand projections are based on 2010 data, and are 17.5% higher than more up to date forecasts from Orange County water retailers the district serves. Fryer also noted that OCWD’s 2015 water management plan failed to reflect newly available recycled water, and ongoing conservation as homeowners upgrade to more efficient appliances and replace lawn with native plants. A new law signed by Governor Brown in May will reduce demand further by setting efficiency targets for all water suppliers.
“Orange County Water District is relying on outdated and inflated water demand projections to justify the Poseidon boondoggle,” said Garry Brown of Orange County Coastkeeper. “That is especially galling when you look at the smart water projects already underway to meet our needs, including the expansion of our local recycled water plant, and proposed construction of a new one in Carson. These projects cost less, and help the ocean rather than hurting it.”
Poseidon’s entire business model is based on co-locating seawater new desalination facilities with old power plants. It first used this approach at Tampa Bay’s Big Bend Station. In 2015, Poseidon built a desalination facility in Carlsbad at the site of the Encina Power Plant. While Poseidon claims that building new underground intake pipes at Huntington Beach would be too expensive, an analysis by UC Berkeley’s Michael Hanneman found that underground “slant wells” would actually save money on operations and maintenance. That is why the desalination facilities proposed for Monterey County and Doheny Beach use this modern design. A report by HydroPower debunks Poseidon’s claim that underground intakes would pull in too much freshwater.
“These expert reports confirm what many Orange County residents have long felt: this project is being driven by corporate profits rather than community needs,” says Sean Bothwell of California Coastkeeper Alliance “We have the technology to reduce economic and environmental costs of seawater desalination, but Poseidon refuses to update its outdated design. Fortunately, California has rules on the books to protect our ocean. We are simply asking the Regional Board to enforce them.”
Poseidon’s proposal must be approved by both the Santa Ana Regional Water Board and the California Coastal Commission. The project also hinges on receipt of an uncertain multimillion dollar subsidy from Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. Finally, the permit granted by the State Lands Commission last October is being challenged in court because the Commission failed to consider whether the water is needed, how it will be distributed, and the full range of environmental impacts. A final decision on that lawsuit is expected this fall.
 Poseidon proposes to screen the pipe, but scientific studies compiled by the State Water Board indicate that would only reduce death and entrapment of small fish by one percent.