Environmentalists say proposed desalination plant vulnerable to flooding

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Environmentalists in Orange County are using the King Tides hitting the coast this week to argue that a proposed desalination plant in Huntington Beach is slated for the wrong place.

The plant, which is awaiting approval from the California Coastal Commission, is projected to operate for 50 years. A hearing on its fate is expected in May. 

The plant's foes say King Tides, which are really high tides, show how future sea level rise, coupled with a big storm, might impact the proposed site--and cause millions of dollars worth of infrastructure damage

"You’re supposed to identify places that are hazardous and then not put things there,” said Ray Hiemstra, associate director of programs at Orange County Coastkeeper

Thursday morning, the group organized a ride in a small propeller plane over the proposed site to show media how rising water levels could impact the plant. King Tides, they say, mimic where the water line might fall as sea levels rise in the coming decades. 

The site is off Pacific Coast Highway adjacent to the AES Huntington Beach power plant. Wetlands hug the southeast edge of the power station with the Huntington Beach Channel flowing along side it.

“It doesn’t take much,” said he said. “A bad storm, something like that, this is all going to be flooded out.”

But waves, tides, and potential flooding they bring don't scare Poseidon Water, which already runs other desalination plants in California. 

Vice President of Project Development Scott Maloni said the company has done analysis of whether 14.5 feet of flooding due to sea level rise of 3.5 feet coupled with a tsunami storm would impact the proposed plant and concluded it would be fine. 

On Thursday, as the high tide receded, the dry groins in the wetlands around the site were popping out like skinny islands in pools of water.

Tall sand berms had been built to push against high tides crashing on the beach and protect homes behind the berm. The waves splashed up along a rocky cliff wall in Huntington Beach.

Maloni said the proposed site--which sits 9 to 14 feet above mean sea level--would experience flooding with water on site but ultimately would not be damaged.

“There’s no impact to public health and safety or structural stability,” he said.

Meanwhile, Orange County is preparing for a weekend of King Tides, along with high surf and potentially dangerous ocean currents. 

King Tides are extremely high tides that push ocean water to the edges of parking lots, create small pools on beaches, and splash water onto roads causing minor, temporary flooding. King Tides occur when the sun and moon sync up in a way that creates maximum pull on the Earth's waters.

The National Weather Service forecasted high tides of 6.6 feet to wash upon Orange County coastal areas on Friday at 7:30 a.m. Expect 6.4 foot-tides on Sunday morning right before 9 a.m.

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