Climate Change Could Swamp Billion-Dollar Desal Deal




by John Earl, cross-posted from Surf City Voice.

Poseidon Resources and the Orange County Water District may have hit another set of self-inflicted hurdles in their quest to build a billion-dollar ocean desalination plant in Huntington Beach.

The potential setbacks include extreme flooding caused by global warming along with downsizing the desalination plant or removing it altogether, according to a recent email to OCWD staff from the California Coastal Commission’s chief scientist, Tom Luster.

In that email, Luster describes several project components that may need changing to earn the Commission’s approval. That, in turn, could impact parts of a proposed revised term sheet negotiated between Poseidon and OCWD board members over the past 2½ years in a series of closed-door committee meetings exposed by the Surf City Voice.

On June 6 the full OCWD Board of Directors postponed a vote on the term sheet until July 18 after public speakers complained about being kept out of the loop by the “ad hoc” committee and asked for more time to respond.

The list of term sheet glitches is daunting, if not fatal.

  • Poseidon must change the project layout to create a 100-foot buffer between the plant and adjacent wetlands habitat. “It’s unclear at this point what changes Poseidon will make to meet that requirement,” the letter states. “A more compact project footprint? A smaller facility with lower production levels? Increased building heights?”
  • Poseidon must conduct a “geotechnical (subsurface) investigation” at the site, and that requires removing old fuel-oil tanks. “That investigation could result in a different facility layout…or other changes.”
  • Poseidon will probably have to change its pre-treatment plan to avoid chemical overloading of the groundwater basin, which could alter the project design or layout.
  • During the proposed 30-35 year contract term, the plant “will likely be inundated [by flooding], either short-term (due to higher tidal ranges, storm surges, etc.) or permanently, depending on the rate of SLR (sea level rise) and the response of the area’s existing high groundwater table.” Then Poseidon would have to “remove all or part of the existing exterior berm around the site.” Far worse, “the facility may have a more limited operating life than is contemplated in the Term Sheet, and may reduce the benefit of the Term Sheet provision that would allow OCWD to purchase the facility at the end of the 30– 35-year contract.”
  • Regulations limit repairs of damage caused by coastal hazards (as called for in the term sheet) and “that could require removal of all or part of the [billion-dollar] facility.”
  • The Commission “may require Poseidon to provide a performance bond to ensure the facility can be removed when needed, which may have an effect on the Term Sheet or the expected project costs.”

Contrary to claims by Poseidon and OCWD’s staff, Poseidon needs more approvals than the two permits (from the State Water Resources Control Board and the Coastal Commission) it claims it needs to advance the project.

Poseidon needs several other approvals, according to Luster…

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Just SOME of our Previous Coverage of Poseidon:


About Surf City Voice

John Earl is the editor of the Surf City Voice. Frequent contributor Debbie Cook, a former Huntington Beach Mayor, is board president of the Post Carbon Institute.