Green groups pledge to drop Huntingdon appeal

Environmental groups have pledged to drop their appeal against the award of a permit for the proposed Huntington Beach desalination plant after California state water officials confirmed that the plant developer, Poseidon Water, will have to reapply for one of its permits if state regulatory amendments go into effect.

Orange County Coastkeeper, the Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation, the Surfrider Foundation, and Residents for Responsible Desalination said they would withdraw their three-year-old appeal of the permit if Poseidon was required to reapply for its discharge permit.

The State Water Resources Control Board informed the groups that Poseidon would need to resubmit or revise its permit application with the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board regarding how the plant would discharge brine effluent.

Assistant chief counsel for the state water board, Philip Wyels, said the permit – which was approved by the regional board in 2012 – was not being revoked or deemed invalid. But Poseidon would need to update its intake and discharge plans with the regional board to comply with yet-to-be implemented amendments to the state’s ocean regulations that were approved in May.

The amendments rule on: salinity limits; taking from and discharging to the ocean; monitoring and reporting; and which sites and technologies should be used. The state board plans to submit the changes to the state Office of Administrative Law within weeks.

Poseidon vice president, Scott Maloni, said that the developer will not be required to reapply until the AES power station, next to the Huntingdon plant site, ceases using its water cooling system, which Poseidon plans to use for the desalination facility. Maloni said the company had known this since the permit was approved.

According to Maloni, AES has proposed switching to an air-cooled system and plans to have the upgrades finished by 2024, around the time Poseidon would revise its permit with the regional water board.

Poseidon has changed its operational plans to comply with the proposed state standards. Its plans include a rotating screen in front of the water intake pipe to reduce the likelihood of marine life becoming trapped in the pipe and a diffuser on the outflow pipe to disperse the brine leaving the facility.

Though the application has been submitted, it could be months before the commission determines whether the company gets the green light to build its project.

Environmentalists demanded that Poseidon use subsurface intakes but a draft report by an expert panel concluded recently – after 20 months of investigation – that such intakes would not be economically viable.

Days after the State Water Resources Control Board said Poseidon would need to reapply for its Sanat Ana permit, Poseidon resubmitted its application to the California Coastal Commission for a coastal development permit following the intake report. But it could be months before the commission decides on whether to approve the plant.