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Poseidon wins key authorization for desalination plant in Huntington Beach

Poseidon Water’s questionable proposition for a desalination plant in Huntington Beach won a key permit Thursday, April 29, when the Santa Ana Regional Water Board cast a split vote approving a compromise less stringent than the environmental terms proposed at board’s April 23 hearing.

Poseidon, which has been working on the project for 22 years, now requires a license from the state Coastal Commission before it can negotiate a last agreement with the Orange County Water District to purchase the water. And, in the wake of the regional board’s decision, there’s likely an additional obstacle, as challengers of the job said they prepare to appeal.

Supporters see desalted ocean water as insurance coverage against intensifying dry spells brought on by climate modification and the possibility that Orange County may get less imported water from northern California and the Colorado River. Poseidon states its project would produce adequate potable water for almost a half million Orange County residents.

Though the terms approved Thursday wasn’t as harsh as formerly proposed by the board, it still drew objections from Poseidon– and from three dissenting board members who wanted less onerous requirements. However the business applauded the result nevertheless.

” We are grateful for the regional board’s thoughtful deliberations, and its approval is an important action towards bringing Orange County one step more detailed to achieving its vision of a drought-proof water system,” stated Poseidon Vice President Scott Maloni.

Environmentalists have been the most singing challengers of the desalination task, pointing out the millions of marine organisms that would be killed each year by the plant’s ocean intake pipelines. They also argue that the additional water is not required and will cost two times as much as the imported water it would supplant.

They say the regional board fell short of its regulatory task Thursday when it authorized the $1.4 billion task.

” Today’s choice cements the regional water board’s failure to satisfy its obligation to the public, and sets a horrifying precedent for what developers can get away with in spite of the laws and regulations California put in place to protect our coast,” said Susan Jordan, executive director of the California Coastal Defense Network.

Sean Bothwell, executive director of the California Coastkeeper Alliance, stated his group would appeal the decision. Other opponents include the Surfrider Structure, the Sierra Club, Locals for Accountable Desalination, Orange County Coastkeeper and the ecological justice group Azul.

Board discord

The main sticking point for the regional board over the past nine months as been the regards to the environmental mitigation Poseidon need to provide for the damage its plant will inflict on marine life.

Last summertime, regional board members directed personnel to increase the mitigation requirements, which at the time included much required funding for the near-annual dredging of the tidal inlet at the Bolsa Chica wetlands and restoration tasks at that estuary. The authorization authorized Thursday added more remediation work in those wetlands along with a 41-acre artificial reef off the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

Also, because of issue that environmental mitigation might be delayed, personnel proposed that Poseidon get all necessary approvals for the ecological projects prior to it could start desalination operations.

But Poseidon– along with two potential financiers– effectively argued that the condition would make the project infeasible, since the uncertainty associated with those approvals would leave lenders unpredictable when operations would begin producing income to settle bonds.

Thursday’s compromise needs Poseidon to establish an escrow fund to cover ultimate mitigation expenses, an additional “reward” fund that’s to be returned to the business when the mitigation is complete, and a requirement that the mitigation designs be 60% completed prior to the plant begins operations.

Poseidon wanted a 30% style threshold instead and objected to the reward fund, initially proposed at 5% prior to being rolled back to 2.5% as an extra compromise. Water Board member Kris Murray tried to eliminate the incentive fund entirely however lost that bid in a 4-3 vote in which she was signed up with by members Letitia Clark and Joe Kerr.

Kerr suggested lowering the 60% threshold to 30%, but withdrew the idea when it was clear there was insufficient board support.

Murray, Kerr and Clark opposed the final license conditions, which included the 2.5% reward fund and 60% limit. Board members William Ruh, Daniel Selmi, Lana Peterson and Tom Rivera supported the procedure.

Next difficulty

Challengers have actually indicated a 2018 analysis that shed doubt on the need for Poseidon’s water. The location that would be served by the water gets about 77 percent of its supply from regional groundwater and the Santa Ana River, with the rest imported. The Community Water District of Orange County study discovered that in a worst case crisis, less than half the Poseidon water would be needed. And none of it might ever be required, the analysis found.

Regional board members Ruh and Selmi stated they were also concerned that marine life may be damaged in order to desalinate unwanted water, however eventually decided to accept the Orange County Water District’s desire to diversify its water sources.

Poseidon might face an even stiffer difficulty when it tries to win approval from the Coastal Commission, with Maloni acknowledging Thursday that the company was likely to enforce extra conditions. Commission staff has currently raised concerns that more environmental mitigation might be suitable which the plant’s place, beside the AES power plant, may be vulnerable to sea level rise and tsunamis.

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