Commission vote halts Huntington Beach application

Poseidon Water withdrew its application for a coastal development permit (CDP) for its proposed Huntington Beach seawater desalination plant after the California Coastal Commission voted on 13 November 2013 to postpone a vote on the application.

This followed a recommendation from commission staff that the 50 MGD (189,000 m³/d) project should be approved if it uses a subsurface infiltration gallery for its intake. In a letter to the commissioners on 8 November 2013, Poseidon described this recommendation as “an effective denial of Poseidon’s proposed project”.

In the letter, Poseidon stated that the “alternative project” would require Poseidon to restart the entitlement and environmental review processes, prepare dozens of new studies and seek new approvals from those agencies with jurisdiction over the project, including potentially obtaining multiple amendments to any CDP approved by the Commission.

“This would effectively terminate this very important project, a vital component of Orange County’s future water supply,” said the letter.

Poseidon maintains that a subsurface infiltration gallery for the project is “infeasible (under the Coastal Act definition of that term) and conflicts with applicable Coastal Act policies”. It says that the sediments offshore from Huntington Beach are not beach sand, but fine-grained “muddy sand” of low permeability. These would rapidly clog up the infiltration gallery and require dredging every 1-3 years, resulting in an ongoing impact to the benthic environment.

The cost of an infiltration gallery for the average 126.7 MGD (480,000 m³/d) intake required for the project is estimated to be at least US$ 270 million, says Poseidon, significantly increasing the construction cost. The company also maintains that an infiltration gallery of the size and scale required for the project has never been attempted worldwide, and therefore economical or cost-effective financing could not be obtained.

Nevertheless, Poseidon Water vice president Scott Maloni was quoted after the hearing as calling the commission’s action a “win-win.” He said the company will study subsurface intakes, work with commission staff and resubmit its permit application, sometime in 2014.