Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Board officials Friday released a proposed permit for the planned Huntington Beach Desalination Project as some board members revealed they had what might be improper communications with state Secretary of Environmental Protection Jared Blumenfeld.
The proposed Poseidon plant to be located at 21730 Newland St. is expected to produce about an annual average of about 50 million gallons a day of drinking water from the ocean.
In 2016, Poseidon Water applied to the water board for renewal of a permit needed to build the $1.4 billion project.
The board was scheduled to make a decision in September, but put off a ruling while Poseidon moved to address concerns raised by the board.
The board asked about the need and cost of desalinated water and the harm the plant might have to marine life from the intake process as well as the impact on Bolsa Chica wetlands.
There are two types of intake methods to draw salt out of seawater.
Surface intakes uses an offshore intake pipe on the ocean floor and through reverse osmosis the salt is removed. That method can leave behind brine which can be toxic to some marine life and if it is discharged incorrectly can pile up on the ocean floor and harm bottom-dwelling sea life, officials said.
Officials said the surface intake method is more of a threat to marine life with some getting trapped in screens.
A subsurface intake method draws the water under the sea floor, which is less harmful to marine life, but officials with the water board say that it is not feasible at the Huntington Beach site.
Poseidon officials have agreed to use fine mesh wedge wire screens to keep some marine life from getting sucked in through the intake pipes and to upgrade the discharge method to dilute the water more.
The company would also abide by a “strict schedule” for a project to lessen the impact on Bolsa Chica, officials said.
Poseidon officials say their plans now include restoration of a 41.5-acre rocky reef offshore of Palos Verdes.
“The development of Poseidon’s Enhanced Coastal Habitat Restoration Plan was a collaborative effort with state agency staff,” said Poseidon Water Vice President Scott Maloni.
“The suite of projects ensures the desalination facility will be responsible for preserving, enhancing and restoring valuable coastal habitat, including the largest wetlands complex in Southern California, that serves as a critical bulkhead in combating the effects of climate change on coastal Orange County. The suite of projects is responsive to the Regional Board’s direction and reconciles Water Board and Coastal Commission marine life mitigation requirements by including restoration of an offshore rocky reef.”
Even if the water board approves the permit, which is expected to be considered in April, the final approval must come from the Coastal Commission.
Board member Letitia Clark said in April she met with Ernesto Medrano of the Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council and the two discussed the desalination plant. She said the meeting occurred before she was appointed to the board Oct. 20.
Medrano told Clark the desalination plant could generate many jobs for his organization’s members. She said at the time she was unfamiliar with the project and did not “provide any opinion” on it.
Another new board member, Joseph Kerr, said he had discussions with Blumenfeld about the project. He said he exchanged text messages and spoke on the phone with Blumenfeld twice in July.
In one conversation Blumenfeld noted that the water board had a “very important decision” to make on the Poseidon project and asked when Kerr thought the board would make a decision. Kerr said he did not know.
In another phone conversation Blumenfeld “asked how (Kerr) was holding up after a long board meeting” and again asked when the board would make a decision, Kerr said. Kerr said there were many more public comments for the board to consider.
“We did not discuss any substantive details of the proposed Poseidon Huntington Beach Desalination Facility during either phone conversation,” Kerr said, adding he has not been in touch with Blumenfeld since then.
Kerr did not consider the conversations as ex-parte communications at the time, but revealed them in “an abundance of caution.”
Board member Kris Murray also revealed that Blumenfeld called her about the Poseidon project in August.
“During the conversation, Secretary Blumenfeld mentioned the administration’s commitment to water quality and statewide water resilience consistent with the release of the Water Resilience Portfolio the prior week,” Murray said. “He mentioned the proposed Poseidon Huntington Beach Desalination Facility in this context.
“My response to Secretary Blumenfeld at the time was that I was aware of the administration’s commitment to water resilience and acknowledged that desalination is one of the water supply diversification options discussed in the Water Resilience Portfolio, as long as desalination is done correctly and is protective of water quality. Secretary Blumenfeld was polite and professional. The conversation was brief and we did not discuss any details of the proposed Poseidon Huntington Beach Desalination Facility.”
Water board member Lana Ong Peterson reported that in July she also “exchanged a few text messages and had a telephone conversation” with Blumenfeld.
“During the telephone conversation, Secretary Blumenfeld mentioned the administration’s commitment to water quality and statewide water resilience consistent with the release of the Water Resilience Portfolio earlier that week and its importance to the governor,” Peterson said.
“He mentioned the proposed Poseidon Huntington Beach Desalination Facility, and noted that the board had a big meeting coming up on the project. I said that the project has taken a lot of time and it was important for the Santa Ana Water Board to carefully consider the various issues to make a decision based on the facts and applicable laws and regulations. Secretary Blumenfeld said he was grateful for the time and effort that the board was spending on the public hearing and for my service on the Board. I told him that I enjoyed serving on the board and the call ended.”
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