Hundreds turn out for coastal commission meeting on controversial desalination plan

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A standing room only crowd of about 200 people packed a California Coastal Commission meeting Wednesday in Newport Beach for a hearing on a proposed desalination plant in Orange County.

Poseidon Water wants to build the plant in Huntington Beach next to a coastal power plant and use its existing open-ocean water intakes, a process that the state has determined harms marine life.

As a result, the state is phasing out open-ocean water intakes for power plants. 

The coastal commission staff has recommended approval of the desalination plant with several conditions, including one requiring intakes be installed beneath the ocean floor — so-called "subsurface intakes."

Poseidon Water has said that condition would effectively kill the project due to the costs involved.

Poseidon won a decade-long fight to get approval for a similar facility in Carlsbad. But subsurface intakes were not a condition for that project because the geology offshore was not suitable.

Poseidon Water has said a desalination plant in Huntington Beach would produce 50 million gallons of water a day for the region, providing a "drought-proof" supply.

Opponents of the project, including Orange County Coastkeeper and the Surfrider Foundation, said the water isn't needed and would further harm the ocean ecosystem off Huntington Beach.

On Wednesday, coastal commissioners are considering Poseidon's application for a Coastal Development Permit, the last bureaucratic hurdle for the company's project. Poseidon received its first permit for the Huntington Beach plant in 2006.

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