Appeals Court Approves SoCal Desalination Plant

Yellow Circle Shows Plant Site

A California appeals court upheld a permit for a 50-million gallon per day desalination plant on the California coast near Carlsbad, over the objections of environmentalists.

Surfrider Foundation sued in 2009 arguing the Regional Water Quality Control Board approval failed to adequately protect against the killing of marine life at the facility at the Agua Hedionda Lagoon.

The 4th District Court of Appeal unanimously held that the board acted within its authority to approve the permit.

The project would require 304 million gallons of seawater per day to produce the 50-million gallons of fresh water and supply water to dilute the high concentration of brine wastewater that is a byproduct of the process.

To avoid harm to marine life, plant owner Poseidon, plans construction next to an existing power plant, Encina Power Station, which uses steam generators cooled by seawater.

The desalination plant will use the cooling water EPS discharges in place of some or all of the seawater needed for the desalination process.

In addition, Poseidon agreed to reduce the velocity of the water flow through screens, use fine screens to minimize turbulence and keep the water at seawater temperature, rather than higher temperature used by EPS.

In 2006, Poseidon received approval from the city of Carlsbad and in 2007 it got a green light from the state Coastal Commission.  A year later it won approval from the State Lands Commission.

The water board’s approval came in 2009 after the board added its own requirements to minimize marine life impacts, according to the court.

Poseidon would be required to reapply to operate as a stand-alone operation if EPS were to permanently shut down.

Poseidon also agreed to restore 55 acres of wetlands in Southern California to create a habitat to allow fish populations to increase, to offset the fish killed by operation of the desalination facility, the court said.

Surfrider argued the board improperly considered after-the-fact restoration measures in their analysis.  Restoration measures would simply restock fish killed because of the operations of the plant and thus doesn’t minimize the initial death rate of fish, according to the argument.

The group also argued the benefits of the co-location with EPS were illusory because it would disappear if EPS shut down.

“There is no factual support for Surfrider’s contention that restoration of wetlands required by the [mitigation plan] was the only substantive measure that the Minimization Plan put in place to reduce the intake and mortality of marine life,” wrote Justice Joan Irion.  She was joined by Justices Richard Huffman and Judith Haller.

“We reject Surfrider’s argument that the Regional Board improperly required Poseidon to restore wetlands in lieu of implementing site, design and technology measures to reduce the intake and mortality of marine life,”  Irion wrote.

Case:  Surfrider Foundation v. Calif. Regional Water Quality Control Bd., No. D060382







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