HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. — (AP) — A California coastal panel on Thursday rejected a longstanding proposal to build a $1.4 billion seawater desalination plant to turn water from the Pacific Ocean drinking water as the state grapples with a persistent drought that is expected to worsen in the coming years with climate change.
The state Coastal Commission voted unanimously to deny Poseidon Water a permit to build a plant producing 50 million gallons of water a day in Huntington Beach, southeast of Los Angeles.
Poseidon said he was disappointed with the decision.
“California continues to face a distressing drought with no end in sight,” a company statement said. “Every day we see new calls for conservation as reservoir levels drop to dangerous levels. We strongly believe that this desalination project would have created a sustainable, drought-tolerant water source.”
The vote came after a heated meeting outside the committee attended by dozens of supporters and critics of the plan. It was seen as a pivotal decision on the factory’s future after years of further hearings and delays.
The longstanding Poseidon proposal has been backed by Governor Gavin Newsom, but has faced fierce opposition from environmentalists who have said that drawing large amounts of seawater and releasing salty discharges into the ocean would kill billions of tiny marine organisms that form the basis of food. chain along a wide strip of coast.
“The ocean is already under attack” by climate change, said Commissioner Dayna Bochco. “I can’t say in good conscience that this amount of damage is acceptable.”
Other reviewers said the water would be too expensive and not urgently needed in the area where it would be built, which is less reliant on state and federal water due to a vast aquifer and a water recycling program.
Commissioners cited these issues in following a staff recommendation and rejecting the proposal. They also cited the energy cost of operating the plant and the fact that it would be located in an earthquake fault zone.
Before voting, the 12-member commission heard hours of comments from dozens of people crammed into a hotel meeting room in the town of Costa Mesa, Orange County, in addition to those logging in by line.
During the meeting, the supporters wore orange and yellow work vests and placards reading “support desal!”
Opponents carried signs that read ‘No Poseidon’ and ‘Don’t sell our coast’ and included a woman who wore a plankton costume and held a sign that read ‘I’m a plankton – please don’t kill me !”
California has spent most of the past 15 years in drought conditions. Its normal wet season from late fall to late winter has been particularly dry this year and as a result 95% of the state is classified as severe drought.
Last summer, Newsom urged residents to cut their consumption by 15%, but since then water consumption has only fallen by around 3%. Some regions have begun to introduce generally mild restrictions, such as limiting the number of days lawns can be watered. Stricter restrictions are likely later in the year.
Much of California’s water comes from snowmelt and with a much lower than normal snowpack, state officials told water agencies they would only receive 5% of what they asked state water supply beyond what is needed for critical activities like drinking and bathing.
Desalination takes seawater and removes salt and other elements to make it drinkable. These elements are discharged into the sea, while the water can be piped directly to consumers or used to replenish a groundwater basin. The country’s largest seawater desalination plant is already operating in neighboring San Diego County, and there are coastal plants in Florida as well.
The idea of desalination has been debated for decades in Huntington Beach, a coastal community southeast of Los Angeles known as “Surf City USA” that depends on its sand and waves for tourism. Discussions about the project have also recently focused on the impact of climate change on regional water supplies and sea level rise in the low-lying coastal area where the plant would be built.
More than two decades ago, Poseidon proposed to build two desalination plants, one in San Diego County and one in Huntington Beach. The San Diego County plant has been approved and built, and desalinated water now accounts for 10% of San Diego County Water District the water supply.
But the Huntington Beach project has experienced many delays. In 2013, the Coast Commission expressed concern that the proposed use of water intake structures to rapidly draw large volumes of water from the ocean would harm marine life. Poseidon, which is owned by Brookfield Infrastructure Partners, conducted additional studies and resubmitted the plan with a proposal to mitigate marine damage through the restoration of nearby wetlands.
Last month, panel staffers released a 200-page report opposing the project, saying it fails to comply with marine life protection policies and policies to minimize the risk of tsunamis and disasters. sea level rise.
Some Thursdays also debated the scale of local demand for desalinated water. Orange County has an extensive groundwater basin and recycles wastewater, making the region less dependent on imported water than San Diego. the Orange County Water Districtwhich has announced its intention to buy water from Poseidon, manages the basin which helps to meet about 75% of the water demand in the northern and central parts of the county.
Poseidon argues that the region would still benefit from the closure of a drought-tolerant water source, as would inland communities and states that may have increased access to imported water supplies once the county will be able to draw on desalinated water. Steve Sheldon, chairman of the Orange County Water District, said desalinated water is more expensive now, but he expects the cost of imported water to also rise over time.
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