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Sunday, May 22, 2022

Agency unanimously rejects California desalination project

by Amy Taxin | The Associated Press

HUNTINGTON BEACH – A California coastal panel on Wednesday rejected a long-running proposal to build a $1.4 billion seawater desalination plant to turn Pacific Ocean water into drinking water, as the state continues to It is battling drought, which is expected to worsen with climate change in the coming years.

The state’s Coastal Commission voted unanimously to deny a permit for Poseidon Water to build a plant to produce 50 million gallons of water a day in Huntington Beach, southeast of Los Angeles.

Poseidon said he was disappointed with the decision.

“California continues to face a drought with no end in sight,” a company statement said. “Every day, we see new calls for conservation as reservoir levels drop to dangerous levels. We strongly believe that this desalination project will have created a sustainable, drought-tolerant source of water.”

Dozens of supporters and critics of the plan voted after a heated meeting before the participating commission. After years of other hearings and delays, it was considered an important decision on the future of the plant.

Poseidon’s long-running proposal was supported by Governor Gavin Newsom, but faced strong opposition from environmentalists, who said that pulling up large amounts of ocean water and releasing salty discharges back into the ocean could result in billions of smaller ones. The sea creatures that form the basis of the food will be killed. chain with a large swath of coast.

Commissioner Dayana Bochco said climate change is already “attacking the ocean”. “I cannot in good conscience say that this amount of damage is reasonable.”

Other critics said the water would be too expensive and not urgently needed in the area where it would be made, which is less dependent on state and federal water because of an adequate aquifer and water recycling program.

The commissioners cited issues in complying with the staff’s recommendation and in rejecting the proposal. He also cited the energy cost of running the plant and the fact that it would sit in an earthquake fault zone.

Ahead of the vote, the 12-member commission heard comments from scores of people packed into a hotel meeting room in the Orange County city of Costa Mesa in addition to tuning in online.

At the meeting, supporters wore orange and yellow vests and chanted “Support Desal!”

Opponents carried signs reading “No Poseidon” and “Don’t $eel our coast” and included a woman who wore a plankton costume and “I’m a plankton – please don’t kill me!”

California has spent most of the past 15 years in a state of drought. Its typical wet season, which lasts from late fall to late winter, was particularly dry this year and has resulted in 95% of the state being classified as severe drought.

Newsom last summer urged residents to cut consumption by 15%, but water use has dropped by only 3% since then. Some areas have generally introduced mild restrictions such as how many days the lawn can be watered. More stringent restrictions are expected later in the year.

Much of California’s water comes from melting snow and with much below normal snowpack, state officials have told water agencies to get only 5% from the state’s water supply, more than is needed for critical activities such as drinking and bathing. will do.

Desalination takes sea water and removes salt and other elements to make it drinkable. Those elements are released back into the ocean, while the water can be delivered directly to consumers or used to refill groundwater basins. The nation’s largest seawater desalination plant is already in operation in nearby San Diego County, and Florida also has coastal plants.

The idea of ​​desalination has been debated for decades in Huntington Beach, a coastal community in Los Angeles known as “Surf City USA”, which relies on its sands and waves for tourism. Discussion of the project has also recently focused on the impact of climate change on regional water supplies and sea level rise in the low-lying coastal region where the plant will be built.

More than two decades ago, Poseidon proposed building two desalination plants—one in San Diego County, and one in Huntington Beach. The San Diego County plant was approved and built, and desalinated water now accounts for 10% of the San Diego County Water District’s water supply.

But the Huntington Beach project has faced several delays. In 2013, the Coastal Commission expressed concern that the proposed use of intake structures to quickly draw large amounts of water from the ocean would harm marine life. Poseidon, which is owned by Brookfield Infrastructure Partners, conducted additional studies and reintroduced the plan with a proposal to reduce marine damage through the restoration of nearby wetlands.

Last month, staff members of the panel released a 200-page report opposing the project, arguing that it failed to comply with marine life protection policies and policies aimed at threats from tsunamis and rising sea levels. is to reduce.

Some also debated the extent of the local demand for desalinated water on Thursday. Orange County has a substantial groundwater basin and recycles wastewater, making the area less dependent on imported water than San Diego. The Orange County Water District, which has said it intends to buy Poseidon’s water, manages the basin that helps meet about 75% of water demand in the northern and central parts of the county.

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