Huntington Beach Desalination

Now is the Time!  Plan on attending the Coastal Commission Hearing on the Poseidon project

The California Coastal Commission is planning on holding a hearing on the Poseidon Huntington beach Desalination Project  We need you there!  We will provide you with everything you need to attend; directions, parking, signs, and all the information on the project you want. contact Ray Hiemstra at or call 714-850-1965 for details. Make your voice count!

Click here for all the information you need to attend the hearing!

TAKE ACTION: Sign the petition and #SayNoToPoseidon!

Desalination in California

With the current drought in California stretching to a fifth year water districts statewide are looking for new sources of water. Ocean desalination is one of the options we need to consider, but it is not as simple as it may appear. There are good reasons why there are no large ocean desalination facilities in California. Ocean desalination has huge environmental impacts along with high costs (6x the cost of our groundwater) and other financial risks. Orange County is where the future of desalination in California is being decided. Three agencies are making decisions on the Poseidon Huntington Beach Desalination Project this year that affect both the environment and your finances for decades to come. You can make a difference. Your actions in 2016 will help decide the fate of our ocean and quality of life. Below we describe the details of what is going on and how you can help beginning with the most local and urgent activities of the project

California Coastal Commission

Since Poseidon’s embarrassing setback at the California Coastal Commission in November 2013 they have increased their efforts to move the project forward with as little change as possible to its obsolete design. At the 2013 hearing in Newport Beach, the Commission berated Poseidon for their lack of a feasibility study for subsurface intakes and lack of a customer to show a clear need for the water. You can see the California Coastal Commission staff report for the hearing here. Poseidon withdrew their application, and the Commission requested that they work with their staff to address their concerns. Since that time Poseidon has worked with California Coastal Commission staff in 2014 to create an Independent Scientific Advisory Panel (ISTAP) to study the feasibility of using subsurface intakes for the Huntington Beach Project. The ISTAP issued a report in the Summer of 2014 that stated that subsurface intakes are technically feasible, another blow for Poseidon.  In 2015 Poseidon and the California Coastal Commission convened a second ISTAP to study the construction and economic feasibility of subsurface intakes. The panel met in February and released a final report in November 2015.  The ISTAP then released a revised report on the technical feasibility of using subsurface wells for the Poseidon project in January 2016. Together these reports show that it is possible to use subsurface wells for the Poseidon project.  In September 2016 Poseidon re applied for a permit and on April 1 2016 the Coastal Commission issued a Notice of Complete Application Poseidon has stated their goal to bring the Huntington Beach Project back to the Coastal Commission in September 2016.  We will need all hands on deck for that hearing.

Poseidon Water is hiding the real cost of desalinatio

The True Cost of Desalination

Distribution, storage, infrastructure and more – all of these expensive factors remain hidden from the true cost of the proposed Poseidon Huntington Beach Desalination Plant. Knowing that Orange County residents are not receiving an accurate price tag, we created an infographic displaying each of the sneaky costs Poseidon does not want ratepayers to know.

Click here to learn more.

Click here to download the infographic.

Orange County Water District

On May 14, 2015 at 5:30 pm the Orange County Water District Board met and decided to accept Poseidon’s vague terms for negotiating a Water Purchase Agreement with a split vote of seven to three. On July 6, 2016 they approved a preferred option that would require Huntington Beach, Newport Beach and Costa Mesa to use 100% desalinated water and pumping the rest of the desalinated water into the ground.

This is a bad idea for several reasons. Poseidon has been desperately searching for a customer for this water for over fifteen years with no takers. After being turned down by our cities and regional water retailer, Poseidon identified the Orange County Water District (Orange County Water District, manager of our groundwater) as their last resort for their project. With help from over a hundred thousand dollars in political donations the Orange County Water District board is now seriously considering entering into a 50-year contract with Poseidon to purchase desalinated water. The fact that they are considering pumping the desalinated water into the ground shows that local cities are not willing to take the water from this flawed project.

The primary problems include the design of the plant and the cost of the water. The proposed plant will impact marine life from Palos Verdes to Dana Point, pollute the ocean in Huntington Beach and cost six times what we are currently paying, just to produce water for lawns. There are many better and cheaper alternatives including reducing water use for landscaping, conservation, increasing local water capture and recycling. Unfortunately some of the Orange County Water District Board members are blinded by the idea of a “quick fix” for a long-term problem.

They need to hear from you that environmentally friendly and less costly options need to be completed before even thinking about ocean desalination.

Contact your Orange County Water Board Members:

General Managers:

Michael R. Markus, PE

Orange County Water District 

18700 Ward Street

Fountain Valley, CA 92708

Board Members: - Dina Nguyen - Denis R. Bilodeau - Roger C. Yoh - Phillip L. Anthony - Stephen R. Sheldon - Cathy Green, President - Shwan Dewane - Roman Reyna  - Jordan Brnadman - Jan M. Flory

The bolded board members are the ones that voted no on the term sheet and the plan to spend $230,000 for consultants to consider Poseidon.

You can also submit a letter directly to the board via email at or call (714) 378‐8243 and leave a message.

California Water Resources Control Board

On May 5, 2015 the State Water Resources Control Board adopted a statewide policy for developing Ocean Desalination plants in California. The policy is intended to addresses the adverse effects ocean desalination plants can have on water quality, aquatic life and other “beneficial uses” of California’s ocean waters. Specifically the policy addresses seawater intakes and brine discharges that are the major threat to marine resources. 

Unfortunately the policy has several loopholes that can be exploited by desalination developers to bypass the goal of protecting marine resources. We are concerned that the policy appears to be designed to expedite the permitting of desalination plants over the protection of marine resources. Specifically the policy does not name subsurface intakes as the Best Available Technology (BAT) or require their use above other intake options. A key loophole is that a weak definition of feasibility was included in the policy, another is that ocean desalination proponents can install anything they want to discharge brine and then “test” it for years to see if it works. This clearly does not protect water quality.  You can find the policy and all the other information at  

In February 2016 the California Water Resources Control Board sent a letter to the California Coastal Commission asking them to work together with the Board in determining whether the Poseidon Project is in compliance with the State Ocean Desalination Policy.  In the letter the California Water Resources Control Board pointed out a number of deficiencies in the documents that Poseidon has submitted to the Coastal Commission regarding the use of subsurface intakes and the discharge of brine into the ocean. In July 2016 the Santa Ana Regional Water Board sent a letter to Poseidon detailing the process that the Water Board will follow in determining whether Poseidon's project complies with the Statewide Desalination Policy.  The Water Board also requested new information from Poseidon regarding the need for water from the project and potential alternate project sites.  The letter also stated that Poseidon's existing permit is no longer valid for the proposed project.  The Water Board review process will take about a year and there will be ample opportunity for public input. 

Stay Involved:

This issue is far from over and we will need your help to win. You can start by sending a message to the Coastal Commission telling them not to approve a permit for the Poseidon project at

To receive the latest updates, join our mailing list.


Orange County Water District Poseidon Financial Analysis

Poseidon Term Sheet

Desal Infographic

September Coastal Commission Hearing Information


The Truth About the Proposed Huntington Beach Desalination Project

The Truth About the Proposed Huntington Beach Desalination Project (Spanish)

The Truth About the Proposed Huntington Beach Desalination Project (Vietnamese)


Coastkeeper Desalination Policy

Orange County Coastkeeper believes that ocean desalination will one day be a small part of California’s future water supply.  Ocean desalination is a tool in the toolbox to use as a source for drinking water.  Ocean desalination should be the last resort option after all other local water supply options, including conservation, are considered.  It is acknowledged that ocean desalinations has the greatest environmental impacts, uses three times the energy compared to other water treatment processes, and is by far the most expensive (up to 4 times more than other processes). Water conservation, capture and recycling of stormwater and urban runoff, and indirect potable reuse (sewage to distilled water) are all superior sources of drinking water for the reasons stated.

If ocean desalination is the last resort option but nevertheless the chosen option, the desalination facility should be sited at a location where the water is needed, designed to minimize impacts to water quality, marine life and climate change, and sized to meet a documented need for water. It must also comply with the California Ocean desalination Policy.

Coastkeeper’s opposition to the Poseidon Huntington Beach Desalination Plant is based on this policy. The proposed project site is not based on need, but where costs can be minimized. Neither Poseidon nor the Orange County Water District has been able to prove or justify the need for this $1 billion plus project.  In fact, it is not needed to guarantee reliable drinking water for the future. Rather than use the desalinated water as drinking water, the proposal plans to inject the water into the underground aquifer and re-pollute it, adding additional costs, for later use.  The proposed project design would utilize obsolete surface intakes with ineffective screens and unnecessarily discharge millions of gallons a day of hyper-saline brine into the water offshore near one of the most popular beaches in California. The project is also designed to produce an amount of water that assures a large profit rather than filling a documented need for water.  

Poseidon Resources, a private, Massachusetts based corporation, is seeking to withdraw ocean water off Huntington Beach and convert that seawater into private freshwater sold to water districts to supplement or replace less expensive imported water and domestic groundwater. Poseidon promises this publicly subsidized, private facility will provide water reliability during droughts; but have yet to define reliability and the true cost of this project, can Orange County afford to speculate on what would be the largest facility of its type in North America?

Coastkeeper is not opposed to ocean desalination. Coastkeeper supports responsible desalination that considers the true costs of a desalination plant, including the burdens of financing, subsidies, energy demand, the environment, reliability, and aesthetics. We do oppose the use of expensive and environmentally damaging technology to augment water supply when more environmentally responsible and less costly alternatives exist.

Orange County should focus scarce rate and taxpayer resources on the most efficient and cost effective options for water security before approving Poseidon’s proposed desalination plant. The water agencies responsible for supplying Poseidon subsidies should first determine the real water supply needs of Orange County for the foreseeable future and develop a strategy to achieve those goals by using the best available technology with the lowest price and highest potential for water savings. Desalination may be one of the tools that water agencies and the public chose to pursue, but not before fully exploring and adopting the less expensive and proven options such as conservation or funding the expansion of the existing Ground Water Replenishment System (GWRS).

Environmental Impacts

The chief environmental harm caused by a desalination facility in Huntington Beach will be from the process of withdrawing water from the ocean and replacing it with highly concentrated brine discharge.  In addition to the brine, Poseidon will use harmful chemicals to clean the membranes and reverse the flow of the intake pipes to push these chemicals, along with seawater, into the ocean.  Beyond chemical and brine pollution, early studies of desalination facilities found increased concentrations of copper, lead, and iron in the water column and sediment near discharge points.  The source of this contamination was corrosion of desalination equipment, which leached heavy metals into the discharge. (Source: Pacific Institute)

desal_hb_impingement-300x2001.jpgThe cooling water infrastructure used by coastal power plants is proposed for use by desalination advocates. However, as the independent Pacific Institute noted in their comprehensive report on California desalination plants, the California Energy Commission recently declared in a report that “seawater…is not just water.  It is a habitat and contains an entire ecosystem of phytoplankton, fishes, and invertebrates.”  The environmental harm from the existing cooling water infrastructure, commonly referred to as “Once-Through-Cooling,” is two-fold and is referred to as impingement and entrainment.  Impingement kills large organisms, such as fish, mammals, birds, and invertebrates when they are pinned against large screens over the intake pipes. Entrainment occurs when smaller organisms, such as small fish, eggs, plankton, and larvae pass though the intake screens and are killed during the cooling system’s operation before they are discharged back into the ocean. According to the Environmental Impact Report for the Poseidon HB project billions of fish larva will be entrained by their system. State Experts have identified the area impacted by the intake as stretching from Palos Verdes to Dana Point.

The impact to the natural marine environment due to Once-Through-Cooling is not completely understood, but the state of California is phasing out the use of this acknowledged harmful and antiquated technology by coastal power plants between 2010 and 2024.  Proven, and less harmful alternatives to Once-Through-Cooling exist, and the continuation of this infrastructure for desalination will only continue to damage the marine ecosystem the state has a duty to protect. 


The Pacific Institute’s report declares that although the cost of desalination technology has fallen, “it remains an expensive water supply option” and that “[d]esalination facilities are being proposed in locations where considerable cost-effective conservation and efficiency improvements are still possible.” The report continues to explain that California urban rate payers rarely pay more than $1.00 to $3.00 per thousand gallons for their water and even the most efficient large desalination facilities will not have production costs fall below $3.00 to $3.50 per thousand gallons. Poseidon is proposing a cost of about $1900 per acre foot or $5.80 per thousand gallons.  At that price, the cost of supplementing our existing groundwater supplies with desalinated water would be a shock to customers without significant subsidies.

As a real life example, a financial analysis done by Orange County Water District consultants determined that Poseidon’s water is likely to cost $1,922 an acre foot, over six times the current cost of 294 per acre foot for groundwater. This will have an substantial impact on Orange County Water District member agencies who are predicted to see a 32.7% increase in their groundwater pumping cost to pay for the plant just to begin and further price increases over the life of the project.  Poseidon is now proposing a fifty year take or pay contract. Tying Orange County Water District to the project for far longer than the 30-year contract that the San Diego County Water Authority agreed to for at least 48,000 (and up to 56,000) acre-feet of water per year for the desalination plant in Carlsbad. SDCWA ratepayers can expect water bills to increase by at least 8 – 11 percent. Orange County should be skeptical when hearing claims that this facility is “different” or that processed seawater will cost less than other plants worldwide. Desalination plants in the Mediterranean, Australia or Florida are frequently and selectively cited as successful examples of existing desalination plants.  However, it is important to realize that California possesses unique economic considerations not found in other global facilities. These factors must be considered when comparing the cost per unit of water from a California plant to that derived from an Israeli or Algerian plant.  One critically important cost variable is the source of the seawater.  California receives its cold water from the north, and cold ocean water is more expensive to desalinate than warmer ocean water, such as the waters of the Mediterranean or Florida.  Similarly, the cost of desalinated water increases as the salt content of the source water is more concentrated.  For example, Gulf of Mexico has an approximate salinity concentration of 23 to 33 grams per liter while the Pacific Ocean has an approximate salinity of 38 grams per liter. This seemingly small variation has a significant impact on the economics of any desalination facility, and should be considered when comparing the cost effectiveness of two plants in relation to each other. The costs associated with desalination facilities is highly site specific, and a thorough analysis on the cost-effectiveness of this technology must be completed prior to approving any project. (Pacific Institute)


Hidden subsidies obscure the true cost of desalinated water from ratepayers and give the appearance of desalinated water as a cost effective alternative to conservation and the expansion of existing water-saving technology, such as GWRS. For example the term sheet that Orange County Water District is currently considering requires Orange County Water District to provide Poseidon the full amount of up to $475 per Acre Foot ($26.6 million per year) in subsidies from the Southern California Metropolitan Water District. This subsidy reduces the apparent cost to Orange County ratepayers but it spreads the cost of the plant to ratepayers throughout southern California, including those in Orange County. 

Poseidon has now acknowledged that the desalinated water it produces will NOT replace imported water on a one-to-one basis. With the state requiring GHG emission reductions Poseidon may need to purchase carbon offsets equal to about 83,500 MtCO2e.
The cost of carbon offsets fluctuates with the voluntary over-the-counter market. In order for Poseidon to buy carbon offsets it must further raise the cost of desalinated water.Importantly, this is NOT a one-time cost. Regardless of the exact price of MtCO2e, this represents a new cost to the overall price per acre-foot. 


Poseidon’s proposed desalination plant will require an enormous amount of electricity in a state where rolling blackouts and energy shortages are a living memory.  Once operational, Poseidon’s plant will demand 840 megawatts of power per day, operating 24 hours a day.  This demand is equivalent to adding 30,000 to 35,000 residential homes. This makes energy demand one of the single largest costs in operating the Poseidon plant, and a cost which can be highly variable if recent history is any indication (SEIR).

This exposes the water districts, and thus the ratepayers, to even higher costs.

As energy prices rise over time including contributing factors such as the closure of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, the cost to produce desalinated water will increase at a rate greater than those non-energy dependent methods of water security, such as conservation or GWRS. 

In addition, the independent think-tank Equinox Center has this to say about energy and desalination:

“Concerns about the availability and cost of energy, as well as greenhouse gas emissions, make energy intensity a key issue in assessing the different water options. Desalination is the most energy intense solution, with an estimated requirement of 4,100 to 5,100 (kilowatt hours) per acre foot.”

Energy costs make up a larger percentage of the cost of desalinated water than any other water supply. Thus, as energy prices go up they will disproportionately impact this water supply source.

Growth Inducement

In 2004, the California Coastal Commission identified growth inducement as potentially “the most significant effect” of proposed desalination projects.  The operation of Poseidon’s Huntington Beach plant, along with other Poseidon desalination plants in southern California, could provide the resources for additional development of the region and further strain the natural coastal and inland environment of Orange County.

Case Study: The Experience of Poseidon’s Tampa Bay Desalination Facility

In March 1999, Florida water officials authorized the construction of a 25 MGD desalination facility at Apollo Beach to serve the city of Tampa.  Currently the largest desalination plant in America, the facility was promised to be privately owned and operated with a budget of $158 million and scheduled to be operational in 2003.  Intended to offset declining groundwater levels and a growing population, the Poseidon facility would generate enough water to supply 1.8 million customers.

After a series of contractor bankruptcies and running $40 million over budget the Tampa Bay desalination plant opened five years behind schedule in 2008.  The plant failed its initial performance test, and required $30 million dollars in repairs to replace such items as corroded machinery and frequently fouling membranes. To date, Tampa has consistently failed to meet their promised freshwater production levels. This failure not only weakens Poseidon’s argument of water independence, but also significantly increased the cost of operating the plant per unit of water.  The facility also violated their sewer discharge permit due to the discharge of cleaning chemicals used to treat the sensitive membranes.

Tampa Bay should be a warning to Huntington Beach and local water districts. To date Poseidon has never completed and operated a desalination plant. At the least Orange County Water District should wait and see if Poseidon’s Carlsbad plant is completed and operates as promised before proceeding with an agreement. Additionally, according to Poseidon’s recently released term sheet Orange County Water District will be required to purchase desalinated water whether needed or not, guaranteeing Poseidon and its investors a substantial profit. However, this places ratepayers at substantial financial risk. Elsewhere, such as Santa Barbara, Tampa Bay and four of the six plants built in Australia; water agencies have decided to let expensive desalination plants sit idle due to extremely high operational costs. Orange County Water District will not have that option, even in the wettest of years.

Practical Alternatives to Desalination

Desalination facilities are the most expensive method for replacing imported water and should only be considered after water agencies have implemented all cost-effective water conservation and efficiency measures.


Before the Orange County Water District commits ratepayers to paying billions of dollars for desalinated water, we should compare this with the cost of other alternatives. 

desal_hb_Aging-Nukes-Part-1_Epst2-300x224.jpgGroundwater Replenishment System (GWRS)Low-Impact Development (“LID”) and the implementation of conservation strategies is a cost-effective and proven method to reduce our water demand. Landscaping strategies include replacing water thirsty turfgrass with California Friendly vegetation and designing landscapes to capture and infiltrate rainwater. We also have a long way to go in improving our appliances including ultra efficient toilets and clothes washers. Simple measures such as repairing broken pipes and water infrastructure is common sense. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Metropolitan Water District estimates 9.2% of the water used by water agencies in southern California is “unaccounted for.” One common belief of the source of this loss is leaking and broken underground water pipes and mains. For example, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power reports an average of 23 leaks for every 100 miles of pipe. Infrastructure retrofit projects would increase the reliability of the water distribution system, secure the water we transport throughout in southern California, with the potential to create thousands of high quality construction jobs and support the companies that supply the materials to increase our water security.

Groundwater Replenishment System (GRWS)

desal_hb_gwrs-300x199.jpgOrange County is a recognized national leader in purifying contaminated water for use as groundwater recharge. Orange County’s system is the largest of its kind in the world and has garnered international praise for its design and operation. In 1997, the Orange County Sanitation District and the Orange County Water District collaborated to create a system that would preserve local groundwater resources and prevent seawater from infiltrating and contaminating the groundwater basin (a saltwater intrusion barrier). The system diverts sewage from the Orange County Sanitation District, originally destined for the ocean, and pretreats the water by submerging membrane modules before it enters a Reverse Osmosis unit where it is then treated by ultraviolet light and hydrogen peroxide disinfectant. The result is water that satisfies federal drinking water standards and even requires the addition of minerals before it is discharged. Operational since 2008, GWRS generates enough purified water to serve 500,000 people.

Half of the purified water is diverted to recharge the Orange County basin aquifer and the remaining water is injected into the seawater intrusion barrier. In addition to protecting our groundwater supply, another advantage to this system is that it diverts sewage away from discharge into the natural environment, thereby reducing our impact on the sensitive marine environment. GWRS is an existing proven technology, which demands less energy and generates fewer greenhouse gas emissions than the unproven Poseidon desalination plant or importing water from northern California.

The Orange County Sanitation District and Orange County Water recently expanded the state-of-the-art GWRS to 100 MGD from 70 MGD.   With projected population increases and anticipated reduction in water diversion from northern California’s depleting Sierra Nevada mountains, Orange County should be investing more towards GWRS and conservation measures.

GWRS is the most practical option for our regional water supply problems and recognizes the expansion of existing infrastructure as the most cost-effective approach to reducing our dependence on imported freshwater.  According to the Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, GWRS is between 35% and 75% less expensive than saltwater desalination and will consume half the energy.