Coastal Commission Raised Questions of Poseidon Honesty Years Ago

Poseidon Resources Inc., the company hoping to build a $1 billion desalination plant on Huntington Beach Shores, left out vital information when applying for a permit for its Carlsbad facility in 2007. That's according to California Coastal Commission (CCC) documents obtained by the Weekly which say the Connecticut-based company "misrepresented or omitted material information related to its claimed reduction in imported water."

Currently, Poseidon finds itself in a rough patch as it tries to have its HB plant operational by 2017. In addition to a letter issued last month by the CCC citing project issues (like how it plans to cleanup toxic soil), the Huntington Beach City Council voted on a measure Monday allowing members to individually send letters to the CCC requesting denial of Poseidon's permit request. These factors, along with Poseidon's previous dealings with the CCC, could prove troublesome for the company as it seeks approval on its Surf City project.

Members of the public at this week's Huntington Beach City Council meeting opposing the Poseidon project
Members of the public at this week's Huntington Beach City Council meeting opposing the Poseidon project
Brandon Ferguson

Poseidon's relationship with the state agency charged with coastal protection goes back to 2007, when the CCC green lighted the company's Carlsbad project on the condition that the facility be "net carbon neutral."

Two years later, a handful of environmental groups, including the Surfrider Foundation, asked the CCC to revoke the company's permit arguing that Poseidon had intentionally misled the Commission about greenhouse gas emissions. This is where things get tricky, so here's some greenhouse gas 101.

The desalination process, which forces sea water through reverse osmosis filters, requires lots of energy, which releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Though imported sources--say from the Colorado River-- proportionally require less energy, massive machinery is needed to siphon the water over mountain ranges making the process, like desal, a greenhouse gas offender.

Poseidon claimed to have a solution to the problem. It provided a report to the CCC claiming that almost two-thirds of its net emissions could be offset by reducing the amount of water imported to Southern California. Put simply, Poseidon would produce water locally, thereby reducing the need for imported water, thus reducing emissions.

But according to CCC documents obtained by the Weekly, a 2005 Metropolitan Water District (MWD) agreement came to light after Poseidon won its permit, which gave credence to environmentalist concerns.

The contract held a provision that prohibited desalination projects from reducing MWD's usage of imported water. A 2010 letter written by MWD said it would continue "to take its full [State Water Project] entitlements and allotments for the foreseeable future, due to current water shortage conditions in Southern California."

Put simply, Poseidon could produce desalinated water locally, but MWD wasn't going to slow its roll. Most damning for Poseidon according to the CCC, was that the company knew full well about the MWD agreement.

The Coastal Commission was blunt in its assessment.

"Poseidon's representations to the Commission asserted that there would be a reliable, one-for-one reduction in water imported to Southern California through the [State Water Project] as the result of Poseidon's project, but this does not appear to be the case," the Commission said.

At the time Poseidon claimed it had not intentionally misled the commission. Company VP Scott Maloni called such claims frivolous.

Though ground has been broken on the Carlsbad facility, according to Surfrider Water Programs Manager Joe Geever, the data Poseidon provided could prove problematic when the CCC rules on the Huntington plant this summer.

"The important part of this is they're using the same calculation for Huntington," said Geever. "I don't think [the Coastal Commission] is going to accept that. They've already found that that calculation was intentionally inaccurate."

Follow OC Weekly on Twitter @ocweekly or on Facebook!


All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >