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State Regulators Override Desalination Plant Dissents Raised By Environmentalists

State water quality regulators on June 5 dismissed a petition from two environmental groups challenging the proposed Poseidon Resources Corp. desalination plant in Carlsbad.

The $300 million, privately financed plant would have the capacity of converting 100 million gallons of seawater into 50 million gallons of drinking water daily. Poseidon, based in Connecticut, hopes to have the plant up and running in 2010.

Two organizations, the Surfrider Foundation and Coastkeeper, sought to overturn the plant’s discharge permit, issued in August by the San Diego Water Quality Control Board.

Joe Geever, regional manager for the Surfrider Foundation, said his organization was concerned the plant would kill fish. Geever added that Surfrider wanted to compel state officials to look at a recent federal court decision challenging the operation of power plant cooling intakes. Poseidon intends to use the cooling system of the neighboring Encina power plant.

Though the state struck one decision down, Geever said a second appeal remains before state regulators.

Scott Maloni, a political consultant to Poseidon, said the desalination plant will create a minimal impact on the marine ecosystem. That assessment comes from the plant’s environmental impact report, which the city of Carlsbad approved in June 2006.

In a separate move, Poseidon fine-tuned its permit application to the California Coastal Commission this month, turning in an addendum on June 1.

Poseidon first filed with the state board in August. The commission has requested more information three times.

Maloni said Poseidon would like the Coastal Commission to take up its application at its November meeting. The state panel meets in a different coastal city every month and will come to San Diego that month.

The commission has been asking for “some fairly substantive pieces of information,” said Tom Luster, an environmental scientist with the state commission. For example, the commission wants to know how much seawater Poseidon will run through the system, and what would happen if the desalination plant operates without the help of the neighboring Encina power plant.

Maloni said the environmental report addressed scenarios with and without Encina, and concluded the impact would be insignificant and can be mitigated.

Luster said the Coastal Commission has 30 days to look at Poseidon’s new filing.

On top of the coastal permit, Poseidon must still get a lease on its intended Carlsbad property from the California State Lands Commission.

Poseidon says its Carlsbad desalination plant will produce water for up to 300,000 residents. Specifically, it would provide North County communities with up to 56,000 acre-feet of water per year. An acre-foot is roughly the area of a football field (excluding the end zones) flooded 1 foot deep in water.

Matter removed from the seawater during the purification process will go back into the ocean with discharge from the Encina plant’s cooling system.

In its press release announcing the state water agency’s ruling, Poseidon raised the specter of decreased water imports to San Diego County, citing one of the latest twists in California water politics.

On May 31, Southern California temporarily lost water imports from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. State officials shut down the aqueduct because of environmental concerns over a pump station near the Central Valley town of Tracy. As of June 6, the state agency overseeing the aqueduct said it did not know when the system would be operating again.

“The Carlsbad Desalination Project is a critically needed infrastructure investment that is recognized as being absolutely necessary to address the immediate and pressing water supply needs of the San Diego region,” Poseidon officials said a statement distributed June 6.

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