The California Coastal Commission voted against a controversial plan by the company Poseidon Water to build a huge desalination plant in Huntington Beach. Despite worsening drought and repeated calls from Gov. Gavin Newsom to tap the Pacific Ocean as a source of drinking water, commissioners voted unanimously against the plan on Thursday night. The decision may end the company’s plans for the $1.4 billion plant.
In denying Poseidon a permit, the commission demonstrated its independence from the Newsom administration and also sent the message that high costs, vocal opposition and hazards such as sea-level rise can present major hurdles for large desalination plants on the California coast.
The governor had said California needs the desalination plant to cope with extreme drought and recently warned that a vote against the project would be a “big mistake”. Activists said the decision was a victory for fact-based regulation over politics. The project was first proposed more than two decades ago and the long-running fight has encompassed a list of contentious issues. They include the proposed plant’s impact on marine life. It was vulnerable to sea-level rise and the company’s heavy political lobbying.
Before casting her vote Thursday night, Vice-Chair Caryl Hart said the proposal raised many concerns for her. In testimony leading up to the vote, Poseidon and its supporters argued that building the desalination plant would buttress local water supplies and make the area more resilient. They cited the severe drought in California and the West and higher temperatures brought on by global warming, pointing to the worsening shortages of imported water supplies from the State Water Project and the Colorado River.
Poseidon’s opponents argued that desalinated water was unnecessary because northern Orange County already has ample groundwater supply and is recycling its wastewater. They said the project would only benefit Canadian parent company Brookfield Infrastructure and its investors. Low-income people would be hit especially hard by rate increases.
The company said the costs had yet to be finalized but that monthly water rates could increase by roughly $3 to $6 per household. The commission’s staff concluded that despite a lack of detailed information on costs.