Desalination project should be approved by California Coastal Commission, Gov. Gavin Newsom says

Desalination project should be approved by California Coastal Commission, Gov. Gavin Newsom says

Citing California’s worsening drought conditions, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday urged the California Coastal Commission to give final approval for construction of a new $1.4 billion desalination plant on the state’s coastline.

The proposed oceanfront facility in Huntington Beach has been under debate for more than 20 years, and its outcome could set a course for other desalination plants on the state’s coast.

“We need more tools in the damn tool kit,” Newsom said during a meeting with the Bay Area News Group editorial board when asked about the project. “We are as dumb as we want to be. What more evidence do you need that you need to have more tools in the tool kit than what we’ve experienced? Seven out of the last 10 years have been severe drought.”

On Monday the staff of the Coastal Commission recommended that the project be denied, citing its impact on marine life, energy use, its vulnerability to sea level rise, and the potential to drive up water rates for low-income residents. It’s up for a vote in two weeks.

Newsom said a no vote by the full commission to kill the project would be “a big mistake, a big setback.”

If approved at the May 12 Coastal Commission meeting, the project would be the second major ocean desalination plant built in California, following the opening in 2015 of a $1 billion plant in San Diego County by Poseidon Water, the same company that wants to build the Huntington Beach plant.

Some environmental groups fought both, saying they use too much energy, harm marine life and provide the most expensive type of drinking water.

“It’s disappointing that the governor doesn’t seem to be interested in the scale and nuance that’s needed to understand the impacts of this plant,” said Mandy Sackett, California policy coordinator of the Surfrider Foundation. “It would be a step backwards in terms of solving our state’s water needs.”

Orange County has ample groundwater, Sackett said. And other water sources, such as expanding recycled water, stormwater capture and more conservation, including programs that pay people to remove lawns, provide water that is cheaper than ocean desalination, she added.

The project would be located on 12 acres of a 54-acre site also occupied by the AES Huntington Beach Energy Center, a natural gas-fired power plant.

It would draw in up to 106 million gallons of seawater per day to produce up to 50 million gallons a day of potable water — enough for 400,000 people — for purchase by local water districts. Poseidon’s desalination plant in Carlsbad, the largest in North America, produces roughly the same amount of water, providing about 10% of San Diego’s annual water supply.

The plant would discharge 57 million gallons a day of highly saline brine through the power plant’s existing outfall pipe, which extends offshore about 1,500 feet. The project also would involve demolition of old oil storage tanks formerly used by the power plant.

State scientists say the…

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