HUNTINGTON BEACH, California – The city of Huntington Beach, California, on Tuesday approved construction of the nation’s largest desalination plant, ending years of bitter debate with environmentalists.
The city council, seeking increased tax revenue and a new source of fresh water, was fought by environmental activists and residents who claimed the $250 million facility would pollute the ocean and scar the coastline of this city 30 miles south of Los Angeles.
Council members voted 4-3 to allow Poseidon Resources Corp. of Connecticut to construct a facility that would treat 50 million gallons of seawater daily.
The vote was split the same way in September, when the council approved an environmental impact report that said the plant would not hurt the ocean despite returning about 4 percent of the water back into the sea as brine.
“It’s the salt that came from the ocean, so we’re not adding anything to it,” said Billy Owens, Poseidon’s senior vice president.
The Sierra Club and Surfrider Foundation environmental groups vigorously opposed the project.
“I am concerned about this plant because we don’t know all the bad things that are going to happen to our ocean,” resident Ellen McMahon said at the council meeting.
Huntington Beach Mayor Dave Sullivan also argued against the project, saying the increased water supply isn’t needed.
“We have an adequate supply for 20 years and have been told the same thing by state agencies,” he said. “It’s irresponsible to make our city a guinea pig.”
However, other council members and dozens of union workers said the plant would create jobs and $33.5 million in taxes over the life of Poseidon’s 30-year contract with the city. The next step is receiving 24 permits from various state agencies. The plant could come online as early as 2009.
Poseidon is also involved in constructing plants in San Diego County and Monterey County, California. All three of the plants would use reverse osmosis, a procedure that forces water through a membrane to remove the salt.
Approximately 12,000 desalination plants exist worldwide and are an important source of drinking water in the Middle East and Asia, Owens said.
Copyright 2006 Reuters News Service.
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“Desalination must be included in any discussion of future water sources for Orange County."