Groups appeal Huntington Beach desalination permit

Four environmental groups in California have appealed a decision by the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board (WQCB) to grant a permit for the proposed Huntington Beach desalination plant proposed by Poseidon Resources.

The appellants, the Surfrider Foundation, Residents for Responsible Desalination, Orange County Coastkeeper and Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation, believe the board failed to interpret and apply the law properly to protect marine life.

The board can accept or deny the appeal and must respond within 120 days.

The WQCB first approved the 189,000 m³/d project’s permit in 2006 enabling the desalination facility to operate in unison with the co-located Huntington Beach Generating Station (HBGS). The amended permit, approved on 10 February 2012, allows the project to operate in a “stand-alone” mode when the powerplant is temporarily shut down; or when HBGS is operating but its seawater discharge volumes are insufficient to meet the project’s 480,000 m³/d intake requirements.

The project’s stand-alone operations are regulated under California Water Code – Section 13142.5(b), which requires new industrial facilities using seawater for processing to use the best available site, design, technology and mitigation feasible to minimize intake and mortality of marine life. In approving the Huntington Beach desalination facility’s temporary stand-alone operation, the WQCB found the project fully complied with the code. The appeal disputes this.

“The Poseidon proposal, and the WQCB’s approval of the facility flies in the face of the state’s efforts to eliminate marine life mortality from industrial withdrawals of seawater,” stated Joe Geever, Surfrider Foundation’s water programs manager. “We’re certain Poseidon’s plan does not comply with the law, and will not comply with the state’s pending guidelines on how to best locate and design seawater desalination facilities.”

The co-petitioners believe there is no choice but to challenge the permit under existing laws until the state’s policy on ocean desalination is completed later this year.

“We believe that ocean desalination is too expensive and too damaging to the environment and, as such, it should be an ‘option of last resort,’” said Garry Brown, of OC Coastkeeper. “Before saddling the ratepayers with ocean desalinated water from an out-of-state, private, for-profit water purveyor, local water agencies should prioritize other less expensive and multi-benefit alternatives.”