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Thirsty? This Costly Plant Could Let You Drink The Pacific

The proposed Poseidon Water desalination plant would be built on this site along the coast. Huntington Beach Channel runs through the site. Maya Sugarman/KPCC (Aerial support provided by LightHawk)
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Making Pacific Ocean water safe to drink by removing the salt is one strategy touted to help make Southern California drought-proof. A desalination plant in Huntington Beach has been in the works for decades and is in its final regulatory hearings, but it faces a lot of criticism over the cost and environmental damage that could result.

Poseidon Resources wants to build a $1.4 billion desalination plant near a power plant that is about to be shut down. They say it could produce 50 million gallons of water per day, enough for about 100,000 Orange County homes.

Friday marked the second day of hearings before the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board. Its approval is needed for the plant to discharge salty brine left over from the treated water.

The plant also needs approval from the state Coastal Commission, and resolution of a case pending in the state Appeals Court.

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Business and labor groups support the desal plant. They say it could reduce Orange County’s dependence on imported water and create new jobs.

But critics say desalinated water would be double the cost of the imported water that makes up about one-third of the Orange County supply.

“Don't you wonder why a desal plant is being proposed when there are many other less expensive, more socially, environmentally beneficial projects that can provide water relief?,” critic Monica Guzman asked the board.

Environmentalists warn that the plant would harm marine life caught in the intake pipes and that it would discharge very salty water and heavy metals into the ocean.

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