Orange County Coastkeeper Concerned How New Statewide Desalination Policy Will Impact Orange County Waters

Advocacy organization says this week’s State Water Resources Control Board Amendment to its Ocean Plan may not prevent environmentally damaging practices

ORANGE COUNTY – May 7, 2015 – Orange County Coastkeeper says this week’s State Water Resources Control Board decision to approve a statewide desalination policy leaves open the possibility that future projects will replicate the environmentally harmful practices utilized in San Diego County’s Carlsbad desalination facility. Despite the desalination policy’s preference for facilities to use environmentally superior technologies, designs, and site locations, the policy provides discretion to Regional Water Boards, which will likely result in disputes over what the law requires. With negotiations on the Poseidon Huntington Beach desalination facility nearing, Coastkeeper is concerned Orange County may soon face the same fate as San Diego.

Orange County Coastkeeper Executive Director Garry Brown says, “By not clearly mandating environmentally efficient and sustainable practices for all desalination facilities in California, this precedent provides an opportunity for our waters and community to be taken advantage of by mammoth corporate interests. With the potential approval of the desalination plant in Huntington Beach, Orange County’s coast is potentially next on the list for these antiquated and harmful desalination practices.”

As a neighbor to the Carlsbad desalination plant, Orange County Coastkeeper knows all too well the impacts of the proposed Poseidon plant. It is projected to kill billions of marine organisms, cost ratepayers and municipalities more money than alternative water sources, produce more pollution, and impact marine ecosystems more severely than is necessary, despite current and emerging technologies.

Until this week’s decision, Regional Water Boards approved the few desalination plants in the state on a case-by-case basis. Sadly, says Coastkeeper, California’s drought has created a rapidly expanding marketplace for desalination facilities along the coastline guided by an unfortunate misconception that desalination is the solution to drought concerns.

Orange County Coastkeeper works hand-in-hand with California Coastkeeper Alliance, the statewide organization that has worked with the State Water Resources Control Board to improve the Desalination Amendment in an effort to ensure future desalination proposals do not repeat the mistakes made in Carlsbad. Coastkeeper and the Alliance were able to secure numerous improvements to the policy, including restrictions on the use of cost to avoid environmentally superior technologies, requirements to consider alternative sites and designs to accommodate environmentally superior technologies and a prohibition to use seawater to dilute toxic brine disposal.  

California Coastkeeper Alliance’s Executive Director Sara Aminzadeh said, “Ocean desalination is not an effective drought-response. Desalination facilities are constructed under enormous cost to ratepayers, and often go unused, as we have seen in Santa Barbara, Florida, and Australia. The Desalination Policy adopted creates a framework for local entities to consider and mitigate facility impacts to the ocean, but aside from environmental impacts, desalination is almost always the most costly and energy-intensive source of water.”

On May 14, the Orange County Water District will meet to consider buying the full production capacity of Poseidon Water’s Huntington Beach facility.

As it stands the proposed Poseidon—Huntington Beach facility will damage the three vital Orange County e’s: economy, energy and environment.

  1. Economy: Poseidon is a $1-billion project that will raise water rates in Orange County, projecting to cost the ratepayer three to 10 times more than the average Californian for water.
  2. Energy: The Poseidon Desalination facility will use enough energy to power 30,000 homes. This will expose our water supply to energy price spikes, increasing the already high cost of desalinated water.
  3. Environment: As proposed, the Poseidon Huntington Beach facility will use an outdated intake and outfall built more than 50 years ago for power plants, not desalination. This will impact marine life along 100 miles of coast and pollute our ocean and state parks. The plant will also create 96,740 tons of additional CO2 annually, fueling climate change.

Orange County Coastkeeper wants better water supply solutions for Orange County and urges community members to tell the Water District to cease negotiations with Poseidon and focus on more environmentally-friendly and sustainable solutions to our water supply that solve the problem now, not in a few years.

Coastkeeper believes more conservation, efficiency of water use and stormwater capture provide more benefit for Orange County residents and should be utilized and exhausted before turning to desalination.

Orange County Coastkeeper asks community members to join their letter writing campaign where residents can voice their opinion about the Poseidon—Huntington Beach facility. To learn more about Orange County Coastkeeper’s position on desalination read this story online.