Poseidon Water is adjusting its strategy for gaining permits for Huntington Beach desalination plant, as it moves to keep the project running to schedule.

Instead of requesting a coastal development permit in September as planned, Poseidon will first renew its Regional Water Board operating permit, after new policies on seawater desalination came into effect in California in January.

“We think that, based on the feedback from opponents of the project, they’d be more prone to tie it up in the courts if we go to the Coastal Commission first, as opposed to the Regional Board, because the Regional Board now has very clear cut authority to make a determination on the best technology available for our project. The best way to streamline the process is to go to the Regional Board for the operating permit renewal, and then to the Coastal Commission for the development permit,” said Poseidon vice president, project development, Scott Maloni.

Huntington Beach faces opposition from critics of desalination, including pressure groups Surfer Foundation and Coastkeeper, which have focused particularly on the impact on marine life of the project’s proposed water intake technology.

The plant, which will have a capacity of 189,000 m3/d, is now proposing seawater intake screens that are 1 millimetre thick, with through-screen water velocity of less than 0.5 feet per second.

A five-year operating permit issued by the Regional Board is due for renewal next year, at which point Poseidon will aim to demonstrate that it has complied with the new state regulations on desalination. Separately, a lease to operate pipes under the state beach, issued by the State Lands Commission, must also now be renewed.

“We are still anticipating a 2017 notice to proceed to the construction contractor. The permitting process will probably wrap up in summer or early fall 2017, based on the conversations that we’ve had with the different agencies,” said Maloni.

“On a parallel track, we’ll be finalising our water purchase agreement with the Orange County Water District, and we will also be finalising the engineering, procurement, and construction of the plant,” he said. Kiewit, the construction contractor that built Carlsbad desalination plant, has been named preferred contractor for Huntington Beach, and Poseidon is running a competitive process to pick a process provider, and an operation and maintenance provider.