On July 6, the Orange County Water District (OCWD) voted on how Poseidon's desalinated water should be dispersed throughout the county. Although this issue should have been resolved a month ago, at the meeting last week, OCWD's board of directors finally voted to inject the desalinated water into the ground water basin, which would distribute the water to as many as 26 injection wells.
The problem with this plan, according to Ray Heimstra of Orange County Coastkeeper, is that it's going to significantly pollute the water we currently have in our ground water basin. "It's going to greatly increase the salt load within the Orange County basin and greatly lower the quality of the water throughout the county," Heimstra says. "The Irvine Ranch Water District has expressed particular concern about the desalinated water being mixed with the water that's currently in their aquifer. But the board members seem to brush it off as if it's not a big deal...Mixing the two waters is anything but a good idea."
Despite last week's vote, several massive hurdles surfaced at the meeting. Six months ago, according to Heimstra, the project only needed the Coastal Commission permit for Poseidon to start building their proposed plant. But now Poseidon also needs to renew its State Water Board permit and State Lands Commission permit.
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According to Heimstra, the State Lands Commission gave Poseidon a permit to use the existing intake and outfall structures (water pipes) under the conditions that they don't modify them. In order to meet the new state water board requirements, however, they're going to have to modify those structures. "This is going to cause [Poseidon] to have to go back to the State Lands Commission, too, pushing out the project even further."
About a year ago, the plans for the project boasted about having the plant well under construction by the end of this year, recalls Heimstra. Now, three permits (including the Coastal Commission permit) stand in the way of Poseidon's construction. "The State Water Board never finishes anything on time," says Heimstra. "It’ll be a miracle if they can get the permit completed and issued to Poseidon by the middle of 2017 at the earliest."
The OCWD still appears to be uncertain regarding the effects of the plant on the environment and the quality of Orange County's water supply. "What's clear is that the OCWD board of directors still don't know where the water's going to go or how it going to affect things," says Heimstra. And even though the OCWD moved forward with the vote to inject the desalinated water into the ground, the project is facing issues meeting requirements. "I'm not going to say that the plant isn't going to be built, but Poseidon's certainly having a lot more difficulties now than they were six months ago," says Heimstra. "The fact is that the project doesn't meet state standards."
The next OCWD board of directors meeting is happening on July 20th at 5:30 pm at the water district in Fountain Valley. 18700 Ward St, Fountain Valley, CA 92708