Huntington Beach, California – On Thursday, the California Coastal Group rejected a long-standing proposal to build a $ 1.4 billion seawater desalination plant to turn Pacific water into drinking water as the state struggles with a continuing drought that is expected to worsen in the coming years with climate change.
The state’s coastal commission unanimously voted to deny Poseidon Water permission 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 severe drought that has no end in sight,” the company said in a statement. “Every day we see new calls for conservation as water levels fall to dangerous lows. We firmly believe that this desalination project would create a sustainable, drought-resistant water source. ”
The vote came after a tumultuous meeting of the commission, which was attended by dozens of supporters and critics of the plan. After years of hearings and delays, this was considered a decisive decision on the future of the plant.
Poseidon’s proposal was supported by Governor Gavin News, but faced fierce opposition from environmentalists, who said dragging large amounts of ocean water and dumping salt water back into the ocean would kill billions of tiny marine organisms that form the basis of food. a chain along a large strip of coast.
“The ocean is already under attack” due to climate change, said Commissioner Dayna Bochka. “I can’t say with a clear conscience that this amount of damage is okay.”
Other critics said the water would be too expensive and not needed urgently in the area where it will be built, which is less dependent on state and federal water because of the extensive aquifer and water treatment program.
The commissioners referred to these problems, following the recommendations of the staff and rejecting the offer. They also referred to the energy consumption for the operation of the station and the fact that it will be in the fault zone of the earthquake.
Before the vote, a 12-member commission heard hours of comments from dozens of people gathered in the conference room of a hotel in Costa Mesa in Orange County, in addition to those who were setting up online.
At the rally, supporters were dressed in orange and yellow construction vests and signs with the words “I support the desal!”
Opponents carried placards reading “No Poseidon” and “Don’t Kill Our Coast”, including a woman wearing a plankton suit and holding a plaque reading “I am plankton – please don’t kill me!”
California has spent most of the last 15 years in drought conditions. The usual wet season, which lasts from late fall to late winter, has been particularly dry this year, with 95% of the state being classified as severe drought.
Last summer, Newsom urged residents to cut consumption by 15%, but since then water consumption has fallen by only about 3%. In some areas, began to introduce generally mild restrictions, such as limiting the number of days of watering lawns. Tighter restrictions are likely to be later this year.
Most of California’s water comes from melting snow, and snow wool is much lower than normal, government officials told water agencies that they will receive only 5% of what they demanded from state water supplies, other than what is needed for such important activities like drinking and bathing.
Desalination takes water in the ocean and removes salt and other elements to make it drinkable. These elements are discharged back into the sea, and the water can be directed directly to consumers or used to replenish the groundwater pool. The nation’s largest seawater desalination plant already operates in nearby San Diego County, and there are coastal plants in Florida.
The idea of desalination has been debated for decades in Huntington Beach, a coastal community southeast of Los Angeles known as the “Surf City of the United States,” which relies on its sands and waves for tourism. Discussions on the project also recently focused on the impact of climate change on regional water supply and on rising sea levels in the low-lying coastal areas where the station 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 now desalinated water makes up 10% of San Diego County water reserves.
But the Huntington Beach project has faced many delays. In 2013, the Coastal Commission expressed concern that the proposed use of water intake structures for the rapid abstraction of large volumes of ocean water would harm marine populations. Poseidon, owned by Brookfield Infrastructure Partners, conducted further research and re-submitted a plan with a proposal to mitigate marine damage by restoring nearby wetlands.
Last month, the group released a 200-page report opposing the project, arguing that it does not adhere to marine protection policies and policies aimed at minimizing tsunami hazards and raising sea levels.
Some on Thursday also discussed the extent of local demand for desalinated water. Orange County has a rich groundwater basin and recycles wastewater, making the region less dependent on imported water than San Diego. The Orange Water District, which has said it intends to buy Poseidon water, manages a basin that provides about 75% of the water needs in the northern and central parts of the county.
Poseidon argues that the region will still benefit by shutting down the arid water source, as well as inland communities and states, which can gain more access to imported water supplies once the county receives desalinated water. Steve Sheldon, president of the Orange County Water District, said desalinated water is now more expensive, but he expects the cost of imported water to rise over time as well.