Potential Water Project Could Make More Ocean Water Safe To Drink In California
Proposed desalination plant in Huntington Beach Huntington Beach, CA - April 5: An aerial view of the Huntington Beach Wetlands and the Huntington Beach Energy Center, formerly AES Huntington Beach, a natural gas-fired power station that partially uses the power plants existing ocean cooling pipes to tap the Pacific and partially air-cooling, and is the proposed site of the Poseidon desalination plant. Photo taken Tuesday, April 5, 2022. The partially retired Huntington Beach Generating Station consists of four generating units but only unit 2 is still in commercial operation as a legacy unit and has an extension to operate through the end of 2023, issued by the California State Water Boards. Unit 2 runs to support peak demands and has a net output capacity of 225 megawatts. The 644 MW combined cycle gas turbine generator, shown in blue and white, began operation on June 25, 2020. Environmental groups have fought Poseidon, arguing that it is privatizing a public resource, has failed to adapt an old proposal to new state ocean protections from killing sea life and that the company is trying to fill a need that doesnt exist, uses too much natural gas energy. Environmental justice activists say water rates could be raised as much as $6 per month. Supporters say ocean desalination as an inexhaustible, local supply for a region that imports much of its water from increasingly unreliable, distant sources. Another stumbling block for Poseidon is state requirements to mitigate the projects harm to the marine environment. Poseidon would draw 106 million gallons a day of seawater through the huge offshore intake pipe, which would be screened, and use reverse osmosis membranes to rid the seawater of salt and impurities. That process would produce 56 million gallons a day of brine concentrate roughly twice as salty as the ocean which would be dumped back into the Pacific via a 1,500-foot discharge pipe equipped with outfall diffusers to promote mixing and dilution. The intake and discharge operations will take a toll on plankton, which plays a crucial role in the marine food chain, killing an estimated 300,000 microscopic organisms a day. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images) Allen J. Schaben / Contributor
Allen J. Schaben / Contributor/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

A developer is looking to construct a $1.4 billion desalination plant near Huntington State Beach in order to make water from the ocean available for drinking.

On Thursday, the California Coastal Commission is set to vote on the Poseidon Water plant, which would be constructed close to the Pacific Coast Highway and Magnolia, according to outlet KTLA.

Jessica Jones, the director of communications at Poseidon Water, a U.S. seawater desalination developer, said, “The site in Huntington Beach is a perfect site for sea water desalination.”

The potential project has been met with pushback. Democratic Governor of California Gavin Newsom is in favor of the idea, but some are concerned about the financial and environmental impacts.

The possible plant would work like Poseidon Water’s location in Carlsbad, which pushes seawater through a procedure that involves utilizing thousands of pressure vessels, along with reverse osmosis to get rid of the salt in the water.

Authorities with Poseidon reportedly said that it only takes around two hours from when the water arrives from the ocean to make it potable. California is facing an intense drought, affecting farmers and municipalities across the state. Those who are in favor of the process say the plant will provide a beneficial source of water that won’t be affected by droughts.

“What that means is that it’s not dependent on snowpack in the Sierras or local rainfall,” Jones said.

The Huntington Beach location would utilize around 107 million gallons of ocean water per day to make around 50 million gallons of water that would be safe for people to drink. But it comes at a cost of around 57 million gallons of brine left over, which is water with high levels of salt. The brine would be diffused as it is delivered back into the sea.

However, some point out the negative sides to building the plant.

“There’s something for everybody to dislike about this plant,” Ray Hiemstra, associate director of programs at nonprofit Orange County Coastkeeper, said.

A report by staff of the California Coastal Commission said, “The facility, in total, would kill marine life in about 100 billion gallons of seawater per year, resulting in substantial losses of marine ecosystem productivity and reduced water quality, all of which would require significant mitigation.”

The report included mitigation possibilities, but wasn’t optimistic.

It noted, “The Regional Board also determined that Poseidon could offset this loss of marine life by providing mitigation in the form of more productive habitat that totaled 100.5 mitigation credits each year,” adding that “Poseidon proposed, and the Regional Board imposed, mitigation measures to address these impacts through a project in the nearby Bolsa Chica Lowland Restoration area and at the Palos Verdes Restoration Reef site.”

The report stated, however, that “this mitigation is far less than needed to ensure conformity to Coastal Act provisions.”

Some also wonder whether the desalinated water is necessary. Hiemstra noted that Orange County is “in a unique situation” with a large aquifer.

But Newsom is in favor of constructing the facility, stating that possessing more possibilities for water is necessary for California. The Orange County Water District also pressed the California Coastal Commission to green light the plan.

“With Southern California’s water reserves dropping lower every day and this seawater desalination project the only new, large water supply project in the entire state of California that can be shovel ready in the immediate future, we call upon the Coastal Commissioners to approve the permit,” water district authorities said in an email to the outlet.