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Plan for controversial Huntington Beach desalination plant rejected

CA Coastal Commission unanimously votes to reject controversial Huntington Beach desalination plant
CA Coastal Commission unanimously votes to reject controversial Huntington Beach desalination plant 01:55

The California Coastal Commission Thursday unanimously rejected a controversial plan to build a desalination plant in Huntington Beach.

Several hundred people attended the hearing, which took place in Costa Mesa, and voiced their support and opposition to the project in front of the 12 voting members of the commission, who all voted to deny a coastal development permit for the Poseidon Water desalination facility. 

"This victory for sustainable water would not have been possible without the continued advocacy of Orange County residents and water warriors across the state," Garry Brown, founder and president of the nonprofit environmental group Orange County Coastkeeper, said after the vote.  

Back in 2017, the California State Lands Commission unanimously approved the $1 billion private project which has been planned along Pacific Coast Highway.

Many residents and environmental groups have voiced their opposition to the Poseidon Water desalination plant for years. Several dozen people also held a protest against the plant Wednesday in Costa Mesa.

Opponents are concerned about the cost to consumers, the loss of sea life, along with concerns about pollution and the amount of energy that will be needed to run the plant. They argue Poseidon's desalinated water would run four times higher than the cost of imported water, greatly impacting low-income individuals.

"So, we have a massive amount of water underground, and we tap into that, and that is our major source of water in north and central Orange County," Ray Hiemstra with Orange County Coastkeeper told CBSLA Wednesday. "So that's why building a plant here, in north or central Orange County, is like the worst location you could possibly do that."

Poseidon already has a desalination plant in Carlsbad that produces 10 percent of San Diego County's water supply.

"Yes we need water, we don't need all the tools in the toolkit, we need the tools that make sense," said Andrea Leon Grossman, director of the group Azul Climate Action. "And the tools that make sense are efficiency, conservation, rainwater capture and recycling water. Those are the ones that make sense, not only for the environment, but for the pocketbooks of people that are struggling right now."

Steve Sheldon, president of the Orange County Water District, wanted to see the project approved.

"Our water supply has not kept up with the population growth, we desperately need more water supply projects," Sheldon said before the vote. "We absolutely need that. We need the Coastal Commission to approve the permit, and then things will come together, interest will grow. Once the permit is approved, everything changes."

Poseidon Water said in a statement prior to the vote that said the facility "will use state-of-the-art technology to meet or exceed all local, state and federal environmental laws and regulations, and will comply with the new state water board ocean plan regulations." 

The company released another statement following the vote, which read:

"This was not the decision we were hoping for today. We thank Gov. Gavin Newsom for his support of this project, correctly pointing out that desalination is an important tool in the toolkit. We believe in the governor's vision and his Water Resilience Portfolio, which identified the goal of maintaining and diversifying water supplies."

The California-based "Stop Poseidon" coalition, made up of environmental justice, coastal and ocean conservation groups, also released a statement shortly after the decision was made: 

"Today was a good day. It's a day where the Elders of our community truly felt that they have been heard and considered in a space where they have not been in the past. Thank you to the California Coastal Commission and its staff for supporting us in stopping and denying the Poseidon Desalination Project permit request in Huntington Beach California," said Frankie Orona of the Society of Native Nations, Environmental liaison for Chief Anthony Morales of the Gabrieleno Tongva Tribe of the San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians."

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