Environment & Science

Poseidon Water plans to reapply for permit to build Huntington Beach desalination plant

Marine structure engineer Bob Bittner discusses the challenges of building a subsurface intake system during Thursday's public meeting on the proposed Poseidon desalination plant in Huntington Beach. He is a member of the independent scientific advisory panel asked to consider whether subsurface intake pipes would be economically feasible.
Marine structure engineer Bob Bittner discusses the challenges of building a subsurface intake system during Thursday's public meeting on the proposed Poseidon desalination plant in Huntington Beach. He is a member of the independent scientific advisory panel asked to consider whether subsurface intake pipes would be economically feasible.
Erika Aguilar/KPCC

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The company that wants to build a desalination plant in Huntington Beach says it will apply again within the next month or two for a state permit to build the facility.

"Our next step is to sit down with the [California] Coastal Commission staff and discuss the process for resubmitting our application for the coastal development permit," Poseidon Water Vice President Scott Maloni said on Thursday after a public meeting on the proposed plant.

Poseidon had applied for a permit but withdrew it in 2013 after California Coastal Commission staff recommended that a subsurface intake system be used instead of an open ocean intake system, as Poseidon had proposed. The company decided to try again after an independent scientific panel issued a draft report last week that said a subsurface system to draw in ocean water for desalination would be " not economically viable."

The expert panel concluded that the cost of building subsurface intake pipes would be so high that it would price the facility's desalinated drinking water out of the market.

Maloni said Poseidon's new application will propose using open ocean pipes but with a smaller daily intake. 

In its initial application, Poseidon said it would need 127 million gallons of seawater a day to produce 50 million gallons of desalinated water a day. This time around, the company will say it can produce the same amount of drinking water with 106 million gallons of seawater a day, said Maloni.

Poseidon will also propose the addition of 1 millimeter-thick screens to the intake pipes, said Maloni. He added the screens would eliminate dangers to marine fish and mammals and help protect fish eggs and larvae.  

"That screen would be state of the art," he said. "The only kind used in a seawater desalination plant on the coast of California."

Environmentalists who supported using subsurface intake pipes argue that the screens would be ineffective.

Ray Hiemstra, associate director for Orange County Coastkeeper, said an expert panel that helped the State Water Resources Control Board update its policy on desalination plants found that using screens would only be 1 percent effective in protecting marine life.

Hiemstra also said the finding that subsurface intake pipes are not economically feasible “clarifies that this is a bad location for a desalination plant." He suggested moving the plant from its proposed location in Huntington Beach to Doheny State Beach, where he said wells could be used to draw in seawater.

A separate scientific panel has been researching well-based intake methods for small-scale desalination plants, said Scott McCreary, managing principal at Concur, the environmental consulting firm in charge of facilitating the expert review of the Poseidon proposal.

The public has until September 10 to comment on the draft report about the economic feasibility of the subsurface intake system. After that, it will be finalized and submitted to the Coastal Commission for consideration.

Once Poseidon resubmits its application, Coastal Commission staff will review it and the commissioners will hold public hearings on the new proposal.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated the expert panel concluded the subsurface intakes systems were 'economically viable.'  It should have read 'not economically viable.'