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State Agency Denies Challenge To Carlsbad Desalination Project

The California Coastal Commission voted 8-to-4 Wednesday to dismiss a challenge to the construction permit for a proposed desalination plant in Carlsbad.

The Commission denied the revocation request by Surfrider Foundation and San Diego Coastkeeper after a three-hour hearing.

The location of the recently-approved Carlsbad Desalination Plant.
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Above: The location of the recently-approved Carlsbad Desalination Plant.

It was the second time in as many months that the coastal development permit for the plant faced a revocation hearing. Supporters and opponents of the project testified in person at the meeting or sent in letters.

Attorney Marco Gonzalez with the Encinitas-based Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation represented Surfrider and Coastkeeper in challenging the permit.

"One of the reasons we remain vigilant in our opposition to this particular project is because it's precedent-setting," said Gonzalez. "This is the first of many and we've learned how a project can go forward in a totally wrong manner. This is it."

At issue was whether the water produced by the desalination plant in Carlsbad would mean the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) would reduce the amount of water it imports from the State Water Project in Northern California.

Poseidon Resources Attorney Ric Zbur told the Commissioners during the hearing that the company never claimed the MWD would relinquish its imported water entitlements from the State Water Project.

"The desalination project would result in direct, one-to-one replacement of imported water from MWD to the Project's nine local (San Diego County) retail water agency customers," said Zbur.

Zbur said the intention is that the supply from the desalination plant would eliminate the need to pump 56,000 acre feet of water into the San Diego region.

Attorney Gonzalez said that, by challenging the project on several issues, environmental groups have paved the way for a better process when other proposed desalination projects are considered in California.

Poseidon Resources has proposed building a desalination plant in Huntington Beach.

Gonzalez took a small victory in a Coastal Commission staff conclusion that Poseidon Resources intentionally omitted or misrepresented facts related to its claimed reduction of imported water.

"The revocation request failed, but this sends a strong message to Poseidon that it needs to clean up its act," said Gonzalez.

On a 6-to-6 vote, commissioners failed to approve a resolution submitted by Poseidon Resources that would have changed the wording of the staff report to indicate the company did not intentionally include inaccurate or erroneous information.

Despite the Commission staff's conclusion that Poseidon Resources may have omitted information, the staff recommended commissioners deny the revocation request.

The Commission staff concluded that "even if more accurate information had been provided to the Commission, it would not have required additional or different conditions on Poseidon's permit."

Scott Maloni with Poseidon Resources said the Commission vote means the company will move ahead with selling bonds to finance the $550 million plant.

"We hope opponents will reconsider their choice to obstruct the project's inevitable start-up and instead opt to work with us in a constructive manner to ensure the project reaches its promise as the most technologically advanced, energy efficient and environmentally-friendly seawater desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere," said Maloni in a news release.

The desalination plant will have the capacity to produce 50 million gallons per day of drinking water, or enough for 300,000 residents each year.

Maloni said the building phase of the plant will create 2,100 jobs. He said the desalination facility is expected to be operational in 2012.

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