Calif. coastal agency recommends approval for Huntington Beach desalination plant

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California Coastal Commission staff is recommending that commissioners approve a proposed desalination plant in Huntington Beach - with conditions.  One of those conditions is to require the company looking to build the plant, Poseidon Water, to use a subsurface intake to bring in seawater needed for desalination.

Poseidon had proposed tapping existing pipes used by the Huntington Beach Generating Station, where the desalination plant would be co-located. But those open-ocean water intakes, called "once-through-cooling," are planned to be phased out by 2020 at the plant in accordance with state rules.  

A summary of the staff recommendations for the proposed desalination plant said the open water intakes would have an adverse effect on marine life. 

 "A key issue here is Poseidon’s proposed use of an open-water intake that will result in significant adverse effects to marine life," according to the summary. "Poseidon’s use of the intake will entrain more than 80 million fish larvae, eggs, and invertebrates each year that originate in areas along about 100 miles of shoreline, including areas within Marine Life Protected Areas.

"The intake is currently used by the adjacent Huntington Beach power plant to draw in cooling water for its generating units. The power plant plans to end its use of the intake no later than 2020 in conformity with a policy adopted in 2010 by the State Water Resources Control Board to phase out use of these intakes by most of the state’s coastal power plants due to their significant adverse effects on marine life.

"Desalination facilities using these intakes would cause the same type of adverse effects ... Poseidon proposes to continue using the intake for an additional 30 years. However, Commission staff has determined there are feasible alternative intake methods that would entirely avoid or significantly reduce the expected adverse effects of Poseidon’s proposal. Staff is therefore recommending the Commission require Poseidon to use a subsurface intake to obtain the seawater needed for desalination."

The staff report also said the salinity concentrations in the effluent discharged into the ocean would harm marine life and could have a negative effect on the nearby Bolsa Chica wetlands

"Additionally, the facility site is subject to a number of significant coastal and geologic hazards, including floods, tsunami, surface fault rupture, ground movement, liquefaction, lateral soil spread, and others. Accordingly, the staff is recommending a number of Special Conditions needed to avoid and minimize potential adverse effects of the project as proposed," according to the report.

In 2010, the Huntington Beach City Council approved the desalination project, but the current city council opposes it. 

"Huntington Beach doesn't need a drop of this water," said Mayor Connie Boardman. "There is no pressing need for this desalted water in Orange County, we're on top of an incredible well-managed acquifer."

Orange County Coastkeeper, the Surfrider Foundation and other environmental groups opposed a similar Poseidon Water desalination plant now under construction in Carlsbad and are against the current proposal in Huntington Beach. 

Poseidon Water said the proposed Huntington Beach desalination facility would generate 50 million gallons of water a day as a safe and reliable supply for the region.

The California Coastal Commission is scheduled to consider the permit for the proposed Huntington Beach desalination plant at its Nov. 13 meeting in Newport Beach. 

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