The environmental protection group Orange County Coastkeeper said last week that a proposed water intake system previously ruled out for a future Poseidon Water desalination plant could be used if implemented differently.
In 2014, a panel of experts chosen by the California Coastal Commission and Poseidon Water ruled that so-called slant well intakes would not be feasible because they would take too much water from a groundwater basin in the Orange County Water District, effectively nullifying the benefit of converting seawater into freshwater.
Orange County Coastkeeper is an ardent opponent of desalination plants in Southern California, alleging marine life and water quality will be negatively affected by water intake and outtake. Its recent decision about the water intake system represents a sea change in its position on the environmental impact of desalination plants. While Coastkeeper is still opposed to desalination in general, its new report endorses subsurface intake wells that would, the group says, have a lesser impact on marine life and water quality.
Using new modeling, Orange County Coastkeeper found that the impact of slant well intakes on the Orange County groundwater basin could be reduced. By changing the flow rate and the intake angle, slant wells draw in up to 108 million gallons of seawater per day while reducing the amount of water taken from the nearby groundwater basin.
Poseidon, however, is not convinced. According to a company memo, the company said that any desalination facility using slant wells would intercept groundwater. Slant wells would require placing 30 or more wells along the coastline and would make beaches less accessible to residents, said Poseidon Vice President Scott Maloni.
Building subsurface slant wells would also increase construction costs. Poseidon currently plans to use open-water intake valves at the nearby AES natural gas power plant on Newland Street and the Pacific Coast Highway. By using already existing wells, Poseidon reduces the cost of construction, and it says, the impact on the shoreline and marine life. The proposed plant would need to suck in an estimated 100 million gallons of seawater per day to produce 50 million gallons of potable water per day, a target which Coastkeeper says could be meet with properly engineered slant wells.
The well question is the last hurdle for Poseidon Water to surmount before it can begin construction on its proposed $1 billion desalination facility in Orange County. The company recently completed a desalination plant in Carlsbad which will provide San Diego County with about 7% of its total water needs. Currently, the company is just one permit away from starting construction in Huntington Beach.
The Coastal Commission is still asking Poseidon Water for more information about subsurface intakes before it finally approves construction. If approved, construction could begin immediately, although Poseidon estimates that it will take at least until 2019 before the Huntington Beach Desalination Project is operational.
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(all data current as of 11/20/2017)
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