Coastal Commission 11-0: Poseidon is 'wrong project, in wrong place, at wrong time'

A grassroots victory for project opponents over $6.5.b Brookfield/Poseidon and allies. How did it happen and what is ocean desal's future in California?

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The California Coastal Commission officially shut down the long-running Huntington Beach (Orange County) based Poseidon Water desalination carnival by an 11-0 vote on May 12, 2022.

The Commission’s executive director Jack Ainsworth summed up the reasons for his staff’s recommendation of denial for the $1.4 billion desalination project:

First of all, I think we all agree and recognize that the ongoing historic drought is a crisis in California and that desalinization facilities will be part of California’s future water portfolio. Unfortunately, the desalinization project before you today is the wrong project in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Ainsworth detailed the following reasons for ending the Poseidon project (his summation can be viewed in full in the video excerpt below:

  • Predicted sea-level rise surrounding the Poseidon site (including critical infrastructure) “will be flooded by increased or more intensive storms or inundated eventually by sea-level rise or rising groundwater” due to global warming.

  • The lack of a coherent and adequate mitigation for the project’s severe effects on local marine life.

  • Measures to build the plant will likely result in impacts upon the surrounding area that haven’t been analyzed.

  • Environmental justice issues: Costs to upgrade the plant will be substantial and will be passed on to ratepayers, “many of whom referred to today are low income and cannot afford such exorbitant water rates.”

  • Ocean desalination sites in the state “should be prioritized based on the critical need of the new water supplies for a particular area. In addition, all other less environmentally damaging and less expensive water supply alternatives should be explored first, or at least concurrently with desal alternatives.”

  • “Feasible and appropriate mitigation must be required consistent with the law. In my view, this project fails to meet that standard and is a bridge too far and therefore should be denied.”

Eleven commissioners were persuaded by the staff report and voted 11-0 against the project. Thus, Poseidon Water’s desal dream for Huntington Beach is dead after 20 years of lobbying, hearings, and organized opposition, but not ocean desalination itself.

It was a long running show that I played a part in, first briefly as an activist and the first president of Residents for Responsible Desal (R4RD)and then as a journalist since 2006.

That experience, which included attending hundreds of water board meetings related directly to the Poseidon project, as well as attending organizing meetings held by the grassroots citizens whose sustained heart-felt efforts finally led to Poseidon’s defeat, is unique among journalists.

Starting June 6, I will give my personal insights into how and why that grassroots victory took place on May 12 and its implications for water management in the future, including ocean desalination.

This will continue my series “Poseidon Town” (which will form the basis of my book by the same name) on a regular basis for paid subscribers.

All other water-news features will be available to all subscribers (free or paid) for the foreseeable future.

Finally, I will be on “vacation” until June 13 when regular publication will resume.

Yours truly,
John Earl

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