Times-Herald (Vallejo)

Desal project should be approved by California Coastal Commission

- By Paul Rogers

Citing California's worsening drought conditions, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday made a powerful new push for a controvers­ial, $1.4 billion desalinati­on plant on the state's coastline.

The proposed oceanfront facility in Huntington Beach has been under debate for more than 20 years, and its fate could set a course for other desalinati­on plants on the state's coast. The California Coastal Commission is scheduled to take a final vote on the project in two weeks.

“We need more tools in the damn tool kit,” Newsom said during a meeting with the Bay Area News Group editorial board when asked about the project. “We are as dumb as we want to be. What more evidence do you need that you need to have more tools in the tool kit than what we've experience­d? Seven out of the last 10 years have been severe drought.”

On Monday the staff of the Coastal Commission recommende­d that the project be denied, citing its impact on marine life, energy use, its vulnerabil­ity to sea level rise, and the potential to drive up water rates for low-income residents.

Newsom said a no vote by the full commission to kill the project would be “a big mistake, a big setback.”

If approved at the May 12 Coastal Commission meeting, the project would be the second major ocean desalinati­on plant built in California, following the opening in 2015 of a $1 billion plant in San Diego County by Poseidon Water, the same company that wants to build the Huntington Beach plant.

Some environmen­tal groups fought both, saying they use too much energy, harm marine life and provide the most expensive type of drinking water.

“It's disappoint­ing that the governor doesn't seem to be interested in the scale and nuance that's needed to understand the impacts of this plant,” said Mandy Sackett, California policy coordinato­r of the Surfrider Foundation. “It would be a step backwards in terms of solving our state's water needs.”

Orange County has ample groundwate­r, Sackett said. And other water sources, such as expanding recycled water, stormwater capture and more conservati­on, including programs that pay people to remove lawns, provide water that is cheaper than ocean desalinati­on, she added.

The project would be located on 12 acres of a 54acre site also occupied by the AES Huntington Beach Energy Center, a natural gas-fired power plant.

It would draw in up to 106 million gallons of seawater per day to produce up to 50 million gallons a day of potable water — enough for 400,000 people — for purchase by local water districts. Poseidon's desalinati­on plant in Carlsbad, the largest in North America, produces roughly the same amount of water, providing about 10% of San Diego's annual water supply.

The plant would discharge 57 million gallons a day of highly salty brine through the power plant's existing outfall pipe, which extends offshore about 1,500 feet.

The intake pipe would have screens with 1 millimeter mesh to prevent larger fish and other animals from being drawn into the pipe. Despite that, state scientists say the project would kill fish larvae, plankton and other marine life. The project also would use significan­t amounts of electricit­y.

Newsom said Thursday he believes the environmen­tal concerns can be addressed.

“In the staff report,” Newsom added, “which I had a chance to peruse — I didn't go into all of the specifics, it's a long report — but I appreciate they made a few recommenda­tions that the Coastal Commission can pick up on. That's related to offsets and mitigation on wetlands and other things that Poseidon would be required to do. Those are longer term. Perhaps they can move those sooner.”

The Coastal Commission is one of California's more powerful government agencies. It has 12 members, four of whom are appointed by the governor, and eight of whom are appointed by the leader of the state Senate and Assembly.

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