[CORRECTION: August 7, 2016 5:35 pm]
It’s been brought to our attention in the comment section of this article that there’s an error in this post. Although pro-Poseidon group OC WISE funded the Seafloor Infiltration Gallery (SIG) study and found that a SIG would harm aquatic and benthic life, it’s actually in the best interest of Poseidon to prove this. It shows that an SIG is too expensive for how taxing it’ll be on the environment, demonstrating that it’s an impractical solution for water. It was the Coastal Commission, rather than Poseidon (as we stated) that was pushing for the option for the SIG. With results that state an SIG is scientifically unjustified, it paves the path for Poseidon to argue to the Coastal Commission that taking from the ocean directly is a better option. The outcome of this study is, then, a calculated chess move for Poseidon.
It doesn't take a whole lot of common sense to understand that the proposed desalination project in Huntington Beach is going to harm the environment. The marine life that inhabits the marshland by the smoke stacks along PCH will be impacted by the construction of the plant, causing hundreds, if not thousands, of habitats to be destroyed. Aquatic life will experience the harmful effects of the plant once the facility is operating and sucking water out of the ocean, killing plankton and other crucial microscopic life.
Poseidon representatives have suggested, however, that subsurface pipes, or Sea Floor Infiltration Galleries (SIG), that take water from the ocean and transport it to be filtered, would be significantly less harmful to marine and aquatic life. But a scientific report released by OC WISE, a non-partisan coalition that supports the development of new, local drought-proof water for Orange County (in other words, they normally support Poseidon), concluded that assertion to be scientifically unjustified.
OC WISE stated in a recent press release that they commissioned the study of the SIG at the proposed desalination plant in order to "provide scientific input to the [California Coastal Commission]" as they make their decision on the project. The full report explains that, much like Poseidon's desalination plant down in Carlsbad, CA., the Huntington Beach facility will take 50 million of gallons of ocean water per day, which will create major long-term problems for oceanic life.
"From an environmental perspective, intake of large volumes of saltwater is potentially problematic because ocean water contains planktonic organisms, including the eggs and larvae of commercially important marine species," the report states. "Intake impacts can include damage to benthic habitats and organisms (the ecological region at the lowest level of the ocean, which is home to crustaceans and other invertebrates) resulting from intake construction and maintenance."
Conducted by marine biology expert Dr. Daniel Cartamil from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the study explained that the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) designated SIGs as the best technology, unless "deemed to be infeasible at a specific location, pursuant to California law."
But the SWRCB only recognized subsurface intakes as the best technology based on the assumption that these subterranean pipes reduce or eliminate marine life mortality. The report, however, found no scientific evidence "whatsoever" supporting that allegation in general and in relation to the plant.
Perhaps the most interesting revelation of the report comes at the end. In the Appendix, Cartamil points out that "the use of a SIG has never been attempted in an oceanographic setting or on a scale similar to that proposed for the Huntington Beach desalination plant."
How, then, can a SIG be the best technology for the project if it's never been used before? According to OC WISE's press release, the report was peer-reviewed and supported by 14 other marine biologists— all of whom concluded that "the construction and operation of a SIG [in Huntington Beach] may have extensive and deleterious impacts to the benthic habitat and organisms."
The Coastal Commission will consider the proposed desalination project, including the kind of intake required and the information provided in this report, at its September 8th meeting in Newport Beach.