Frequently Asked Questions
Who is behind the Huntington Beach desalination plant?
The entity behind the Huntington Beach desalination plant is Brookfield Asset Management, a $625 billion foreign private equity giant known in the financial world for privatizing public infrastructure and dominating key supply chains. Brookfield purchased Poseidon Water (Poseidon) in 2015. Poseidon has been pursuing the Huntington Beach desalination plant for 21 years.
Brookfield-Poseidon’s plan is to convert seawater, a publicly owned resource, into a privatized water supply and long-term (50 year) income stream for international investors. It also includes reliance on more than $2 billion in public subsidies and low-cost loans that will shift significant long-term risks onto the public, especially low- income and communities of color in the region. Poseidon’s overpriced water will unnecessarily increase water rates that will disproportionately hurt low-income ratepayers in order to drive higher profits for Poseidon and Brookfield. At the end of the contract, Poseidon intends to hand it over to California so ratepayers and taxpayers would be on the hook for decommissioning.
Would the Huntington Beach desalination plant have any adverse harms to local sea life?
The Huntington Beach desalination plant would significantly damage local coastal waters and wildlife. According to the Santa Ana Regional Water Board, the project would kill 108 million small ocean animals each year. In addition, the project would discharge more than 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater into the ocean each year.
Studies show that for every gallon of freshwater produced, desalination plants create a gallon of extra-salty brine. This salty wastewater also contains toxic byproducts and heavy metals, including copper and iron. In a single year, the overall volume amounts to 20.44 billion gallons of brine, which would be enough to cover the entire state of Florida in the U.S. under 30.5 cm of extra-salty water.
The Huntington Beach desalination plant would use an open ocean intake that will allow 99 percent of marine life that come in contact with it to be sucked into the plant and killed. In contrast, the Doheny seawater desalination project would use underground pipes to pull in the water from beneath the surface of the ocean minimizing harm to ocean animals. Poseidon has refused to use similar subsurface intake technology on its Huntington Beach project. While the Poseidon project was rated as the least cost-effective option for northern Orange County by the Municipal Water District of Orange County, the Doheny project was rated as one of the most cost-effective options to increase water supplies for south Orange County where more water is actually needed. That’s why groups like Orange County Coastkeeper support the Doheny desalination project and oppose the Poseidon Huntington Beach project.
What are the financial costs associated with the project?
The costs are astronomical. The project would cost $1.4 billion to build and Poseidon desalinated water would cost nearly four times as much as the water it would replace from existing sources, leaving residents with higher water bills. Poseidon’s Carlsbad project charges $2,800 per acre-foot for its water. The Poseidon Huntington Beach project water would likely cost even more. Even at $2800 per acre-foot, that is nearly four times the cost of the water it would replace that costs only $777 per acre-foot. The current proposal would further inflate Poseidon water with an annual fixed escalation adjustment each year causing further water rate increases.
What are the environmental justice costs associated with the project?
While there is a belief that Orange County is flush with cash, not everyone can afford to pay more for water, nor should they, when less expensive alternatives that won’t exacerbate the climate crisis are available. Low income and communities of color would be among those experiencing rate increases, and the waters they fish for protein would be put at risk.
According to the most recent CalEnviroScreen, adjacent communities to Huntington Beach, are vulnerable to environmental injustices because they are most affected by many sources of pollution, and where people are often especially vulnerable to pollution’s effects. They would not only be affected by increased water rates, but also from emissions blowing east from the Huntington Beach Energy Project, formerly known as the AES Huntington Beach Plant, a fracked gas-powered plant adjacent to where Poseidon intends to build.
Killing marine life over the next 50 years via this boondoggle could mean far fewer fish for those who fish for sustenance, especially within low income and communities of color. They are some of the people who have cut water use and maximized efficiency, unable to just “conserve more water.” There is little that many of those who are experiencing environmental racism and societal injustices can add in terms of conservation, except to use less than what they really need to survive.
When the UCLA Luskin School of Innovation evaluated the environmental justice impacts of the Poseidon project, they concluded that:
“Poseidon agreement will likely make drinking water for disadvantaged households in Orange County moderately to severely less affordable. It would yield no offsetting HRW (Human Right to Water) benefits as compared to the continued pursuit of alternative local water supplies and demand management options which have historically proven to be more efficient and affordable.”
Will the Huntington Beach desalination plant water production be for human consumption?
While it is likely that it will be produced for human consumption, unblended desalination water is not optimal for human consumption. Desalinated water is high in boron which affects the male reproductive system in addition to having risk of heart disease. Desalted water also cannot be used for irrigation, as it can kill the crops where it is applied.
How likely is it that the desalination plant will be constructed, and what hurdles remain?
For 21 years, Poseidon has made every effort to push the permit process through. In April 2021, Brookfield-Poseidon received one of its permits from the Santa Ana Regional Water Board. That permit has been challenged by a lawsuit filed in September 2021 by the California Coastkeeper Alliance and the Orange County Coastkeeper on the grounds that it violates the statewide Ocean Desalination Policy, among other laws.
Before the plant can move forward, the California Coastal Commission must approve the project’s Coastal Development Permit during a hearing to be held as soon as February 2022. Commissioners must decide whether to grant a permit to the plant despite its location in a hazard zone threatened by sea-level rise, earthquakes, tsunamis, and aging offshore oil infrastructure that was responsible for the recent October 2021 Huntington Beach offshore spill; the environmental damage the project would cause; and the harm it would do to low-income ratepayers. After that the Orange County Water District (OCWD) would have to agree to buy Poseidon’s high-priced water. Poseidon currently has no purchase agreement with any water agency to buy their water.
What are the alternatives to the desalination plant?
There are smarter, cheaper and more sustainable options available than the overpriced Poseidon desalination proposal. The alternatives would produce clean water that is less expensive, create jobs, and cause significantly less damage to our environment or climate.
More cost-effective alternatives include:
- Upgrading aging water infrastructure to eliminate leaks in existing water systems
- Increase recycling of existing water supplies
- Focus on water efficiency and conservation
- Capture more of rainwater/stormwater
- Continue to purchase current available water supplies that cost about ¼ of the cost of Poseidon’s water
According to the Municipal Water District of Orange County, the region’s water needs can be met more reliably, with less risk, and at a substantially lower cost by any of several alternatives being considered.
Rather than invest in Poseidon’s overpriced water, we should invest in water recycling projects including MWD’s Carson Regional Recycled Water Program, the City of Los Angeles’ Hyperion water recycling project, the City of San Diego’s Pure Water recycling project, and others.
Israel is doing it, why not us?
Israel does not have as much water as we do, nor access to it. Most important is that before Israel turned to desalination, it first maximized sustainable sources. Israel recycles more than 90 percent of its water, California recycles 13 percent, and Southern California alone only recycles 9 percent. We can create far more water supplies more cost effectively with recycling than we can with Poseidon’s proposal.
Isn’t 4x more expensive water better than no water?
North Orange County already has enough groundwater and other water supplies to serve the community even during periods of five continuous years of drought.
According to a UC Davis study, urban water utilities report 17 percent of their water is lost before reaching homes and businesses. Fixing that infrastructure would not only yield more water, but it would also decrease air pollution and GHG emissions as it takes energy to deliver that water. These projects also create jobs. Fixing aging water infrastructure and reducing the waste of our water supplies is the responsible thing to do.
Who is part of the Stop Poseidon coalition?
The Stop Poseidon coalition consists of Azul, California Coastkeeper Alliance, California Coastal Protection Network, Orange County Coastkeeper and the Surfrider Foundation.
Is this coalition astroturfed or is it real? How can we be sure?
Each of the entities listed above are established non-profit organizations or projects that are part of established nonprofit organizations.
What are the politics involved in this proposed project?
Unfortunately, there are many. Brookfield Asset Management and Poseidon Water have lobbied elected officials and decision makers enlisting high-priced lobbyists and spin masters from Axiom Advisors (of Governor Newsom’s notorious French Laundry birthday dinner during the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown), Mercury Public Affairs, Carter Wetch & Associates, and Latham & Watkins to name a few. Poseidon has spent more than $2 million to lobby the Governor, the State Legislature, and state agencies and to elect officials that will support its damaging project.
Key desal facts
of wastewater is reused in California