California Coastkeeper Alliance, Orange County Coastkeeper and California Coastal Protection Network are challenging the State Lands Commission’s decision to green light Poseidon’s for-profit Huntington Beach desalination plant. The corporate project has faced widespread public opposition because of its high economic and environmental costs. Critics want the state to conduct a full study of impacts and alternatives, as required by law, to determine the best way to meet community water needs.
More than 100 equity and conservation activists from groups like Oakview ComUNIDAD, Azul, Natural Resources Defense Council and Surfrider testified at the State Lands Commission’s October meeting, urging the commission to consider water sources like efficiency and recycling that would save ratepayers money while avoiding negative impacts like the pollution of ocean and groundwater, harm to sea life and fisheries, and carbon emissions. Despite widespread opposition, the commission voted to grant a lease for Poseidon to operate intake and discharge pipes under state beaches without considering the project’s overall footprint.
One of the most troubling things about the State Lands Commission’s vote is that it will allow Poseidon to use outdated technology banned for use by coastal power plants in 2010. Poseidon wants to use an open ocean intake pipe from the AES Huntington Beach Generating Station until 2070. The company intends to screen the pipe, but scientific studies compiled by the State Water Board indicate the 1-milimeter screens Poseidon plans to use would only reduce by one percent the entrapment and death of millions of small fish and shellfish that form the base of the ocean food web.
“The facts are our friends on this project,” said Garry Brown, president of Orange County Coastkeeper. “When the true costs of Poseidon’s project are examined alongside smart and sustainable solutions like recycling and efficiency, it will become clear why so many Orange County residents oppose this boondoggle.”
The groups are asking the court to enforce the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Signed into law by Governor Ronald Reagan in 1970, CEQA requires public agencies to identify environmental impacts of projects, and to avoid or reduce those impacts when feasible. This bedrock law protects our water, air, land and public health by daylighting potential problems during the permitting process.
“CEQA was created to ensure the public trust is not violated by corporate projects like Poseidon that have powerful lobbies to push their interests,” said Susan Jordan, executive director of California Coastal Protection Network. “But this vital safety net only works if we apply the law. That is what we want the State Lands Commission to do.”
As the lead agency reviewing Poseidon’s proposal, ahead of the Coastal Commission and Santa Ana Regional Water Board that must also approve the project, the State Lands Commission should have conducted a full CEQA analysis. The last one was completed in 2010, before critical details like the distribution plan for Poseidon’s 50 million gallons per day of water were finalized, and before California adopted statewide desalination standards to minimize harm to sea life. Since that time, California has also created a network of marine protected areas to safeguard valuable ocean habitat. There are nine within 25 miles of the project.
“The community has spoken loudly and clearly that they don’t want this project, and it’s been demonstrated that they don’t need the water,” said Sean Bothwell, Policy Director for California Coastkeeper Alliance. “The State Lands Commission approval of this project without reviewing whether it was needed and without considering how the water would be distributed is a clear violation of the law, and—absent intervention—could doom this community to pay for high-priced water for decades.”
“The Poseidon project is a classic David vs. Goliath story, with Wall Street water and its lobbyists using every trick in the book to obscure facts and overpower community opposition,” said Marce Gutierrez-Graudin, founder of Azul. “I am grateful that California has strong laws to protect the interests of ordinary residents and ratepayers who would foot the bill for this corporate boondoggle.”
“Poseidon’s mega-desal plant would provide a more costly and more environmentally damaging source of drinking water for residents than the solutions the County is already pursuing,” said Damon Nagami, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Poseidon owes residents a full analysis of impacts to the coast, marine life, water quality and water bills.”
The Verified Petition for Writ of Mandate can be viewed here.
This article was released by Orange County Coastkeeper.