Stop Poseidon from getting a permit for Huntington Beach desalination plant

  • Posted on 4 August 2016
  • By Ray Hiemstra

The proposed Poseidon Huntington Beach Desalination plant in Huntington Beach was to be considered by the California Coastal Commission in September but now has been postponed at least until December. This unnecessary project would not only seriously impact our environment, it will set the precedent for how all future desalination plants are designed and permitted in California.  Angeles Chapter members are urged to weigh in on this issue by attending the Coastal Commission meeting and signing our petition to ask the commission to deny a Coastal Development Permit for the project.  

The Poseidon plant would use surface intakes that will kill marine life, and  would discharge 50 million gallons a day of hypersaline brine mixed with chemicals into the ocean. The project will also use enough energy to power 30,000 homes, straining our power grid and generating greenhouse gasses that drive climate change.

Orange County does not even need the water. This is documented in a recent water needs analysis by the Municipal Water District of Orange County which shows that the Orange County Water District (Poseidon potential customer) has overestimated its future need for water by 91,846 acre feet a year, almost the equivalent of two Poseidon projects.

In the background of the Costal Commission hearing is the fact that the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Board is just beginning their process of reviewing the Poseidon project for compliance with a new statewide desalination policy. Since this is the first desalination project to be subject to the policy, it would set the precedent for the future, it is critical that this review is carried out correctly. 

Water Board to review Poseidon's request

On July 31, the Water Board sent a letter to Poseidon detailing the process for determining whether the project complies with the Statewide Desalination Policy and renewing their existing National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System. This will include a full public process that the board estimates will take about a year to complete. The letter also stated that Poseidon’s existing permit is no longer valid for the project and requested additional information from Poseidon on the need for the water and alternative site locations. This is a positive sign that the Water Board will conduct a thorough review. No decision on Poseidon is expected from the Water Board before mid-2017.

But this has not stopped Poseidon form attempting to game the system to move their flawed project forward. Poseidon has approached the State Lands Commission with a proposal to dredge the inlet of the Bolsa Chica Wetlands as mitigation for their Huntington Beach project. Activists got the commission to pull this item from their August agenda but Poseidon will keep pushing to have it heard. We are arguing that the State Lands Commission should hold off any decision on the project until the Water Board and Coastal Commission complete their work on the project and there is a final plan. Only then can the appropriate mitigation be identified.  The fact is Poseidon is trying to use a potential commission decision on mitigation as a tool to advance their project and head off future discussions of mitigation needs at the Coastal Commission and Water Board.  

Poseidon also continues to push the Orange County Water District to agree to buy desalinated water. On July 6, the Orange County Water District held a public workshop to choose a preferred pipeline option for Poseidon’s water. As unbelievable as it seems, all of the options include putting most of Poseidon’s water into the ground, and then re-treating it for use when it is pumped back out.

No real need for desalinated water

As Coastal Commission staff gave the presentation on the different options, it was clear that they are uncomfortable with the idea of putting desalinated water into the ground due to engineering challenges. The presentation showed that during “normal” water years the district would have more water than it needed and that major groundwater pumping and engineering changes would be needed to get Poseidon’s water into the ground. This will require some cities to build new wells and pumping capacity at substantial cost. As the engineering details emerge on how Poseidon’s water could be distributed, it is clear that this will be a significant and costly challenge. 

The Poseidon desalination project will be a critical decision point for the environment in California. The company is pushing at every level to move the project forward; they are spending huge amounts of money on political contributions to influence elected leaders and using them to pressure the state agencies reviewing the project. We can and must push back with a big public turnout at the September Coastal Commission hearing and thousands of letters. Now is the time to act, the future of our ocean is at stake.

Ray Hiemstra works for Orange County Coastkeeper. You can reach him at

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