Coastkeeper Says New Review Process For Huntington Beach Desalination Plant Holds Project to State Environmental Standards

State agencies and Poseidon agree to terms to an appropriate review process and tentative timeline for final decision

ORANGE COUNTY – October 17, 2016—Earlier this month, Poseidon Water and the state permitting agencies involved in the review of Poseidon’s proposed Huntington Beach desalination plant agreed on the terms of an appropriate review process for the project, including a tentative timeline for a final decision. Orange County Coastkeeper says the review process agreed upon is reasonable and lays out a path for a thorough regulatory and scientific review of the project as required by law. If the project meets the tentative deadlines of the agreement, the final decision to approve or reject construction permits for the plant may be made in 2017.

The “Interagency Permit Sequencing Framework Agreement” was established as part of an agreement to postpone the project’s California Coastal Commission hearing and bring the different agencies involved - the California Coastal Commission, Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board, State Water Resources Control Board and the State Lands Commission - into cooperation with one another.

“This process outlined in the two agreements ensures that this project gets the thorough environmental review it deserves consistent with current law,” says Coastkeeper Executive Director Garry Brown. “As proposed, Poseidon’s plant is not in compliance with the latest desalination regulations, so we expect this review process to result in either substantial changes or disapproval of the project.”

Poseidon has been issued a dozen water quality permit violations at its Carlsbad desalination plant in the past year for polluting the ocean with toxic chemicals, so the State will look especially closely at Poseidon’s application to renew an outdated National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) water quality permit for the Huntington Beach project.

“For the last decade, Poseidon has taken a haphazard approach to permitting this project and ignored important policy developments. We hope this agreement finally gives the permitting agencies a chance to evaluate the project in its entirety,” says Brown. “There are still a significant number of unanswered questions on the project. On top of all the environmental, economic and energy impacts this plant would have on Orange County, there has been no proven need for this water.”

Coastkeeper says that Poseidon has yet to address the following concerns:

  • The plant is still proposed to be built on an earthquake fault in a tsunami run up zone that is subject to encroaching sea level rise
  • Poseidon has not adequately studied alternative sites for the plant
  • The brine discharge from the plant will degrade water quality and marine life
  • Poseidon has not adequately studied the impacts of the plant on Marine Protected Areas
  • Adding desalinated water would degrade our groundwater aquifer

State agencies will now work together to ensure the proposed project meets existing laws and regulations, including the new statewide ocean desalination policy, the California Environmental Quality Act and the California Coastal Act. The ocean desalination policy represents the latest desalination regulations and standards passed in 2015, which require new projects to demonstrate the need for the water they want to produce, identify appropriate sites and use the best available technology to minimize harm to sea life.

The timeline of responsibilities in the Interagency Permit Sequencing Framework Agreement is as follows:

  • State Lands Commission plans to review whether the proposed plant’s seawater intake system and waste discharge system meet the California Environmental Quality Act’s standards before the end of the second quarter of 2017.
  • After State Lands Commission completes its work, Santa Ana Regional Board will determine if it will renew Poseidon’s expired National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit within 90 days of Poseidon submitting the necessary documents. This permit gives Poseidon the ability to intake seawater and to discharge the desalination plant’s pollution into the ocean.
  • If the Santa Ana Regional Board grants Poseidon a renewed NPDES permit, within 90 days the Coastal Commission will hold a hearing to determine if the project is using the best available site, design, technology and mitigation of environmental damage and marine life damage.
  • At each stage, permitting agencies will support one another, share plan data from different permit applications and ensure there is consensus on each ruling.

For more information, view this infographic explaining the true cost of desalination in Orange County.

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ORANGE COUNTY COASTKEEPER: Orange County Coastkeeper is a member of the International Waterkeeper Alliance, which has 236 different independent programs across 29 countries. Founded in 1999, the mission of Coastkeeper is to protect and promote sustainable water resources that are swimmable, drinkable, and fishable. Coastkeeper is a nonprofit clean water organization that serves as a proactive steward of our fresh- and saltwater ecosystems. We work collaboratively with diverse groups in the public and private sectors to achieve healthy, accessible, and sustainable water resources for the region. We implement innovative, effective programs in education, advocacy, restoration, research, enforcement, and conservation. For more information, visit www.coastkeeper.org or call 714-850-1965.