Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Surfrider Foundation, Poseidon Resources Battle for Best Desalination Plant proposal

Tod Muilenburg remembers there used to be plenty more local marine life when he was in high school in the ‘80s than there is today. Muilenburg, who loves to scuba dive, is a long-time Carlsbad resident who teaches college preparation marine science at Carlsbad High School, in Carlsbad, Calif.

He has heard, over the years, and lately, about a company called Poseidon Resources dueling with a national non-profit environmental group called Surfrider Foundation. Muilenburg, who knows all about marine organisms, thinks it is sad, along with the “old-timers” who love the ocean, that marine life at Tamarack Beach is almost non-existent. Tamarack Beach is a popular surf break in Carlsbad.

There has been much ado about numerous things within the environmental world of surfing in San Diego County as of recently, regarding a desalination proposal by Poseidon Resources that Surfrider Foundation is not happy with.

On Wednesday April 8 at 9 a.m. a Surfrider representative attended a San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board meeting to hear what Poseidon representatives had to say. Poseidon had to attend because it had to prove, from a 2006 permit condition of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit (NPDES), that it followed guidelines of that condition – the condition was to allow Poseidon to better detail impacts on marine life.

Desalination, simply put, is the removal of salt from ocean water for drinking purposes. A Carlsbad power plant (a.k.a. desalinization plant, a.k.a. the Encinas Power Generation Station, a.k.a. the Encinas Power Plant) already exists. According to Poseidon representative Scott Maloni, the power plant is over 40-years-old and only has two of its five generators working. He says that these two working generators only use 60 percent of seawater to be turned into drinking water. This plant is also killing marine life, so Poseidon wants to use a vacant four acre spot of land nearby the Carlsbad power plant to create its own miniature desalination plant.

Surfrider Foundation’s main contingency with Poseidon is that Poseidon will actually increase marine mortality if its proposed plant is approved, more so than the already-existing old plant.

“Prolonging life of the (current) power-plant is killing marine life,” Maloni says. “If you peel back the onion, (Surfrider) will admit that … the project itself is not harmful environmentally. They are concerned about the precedent of future plants. They are worried about this being the first of many, even if public policy is on their side.”

This is true. According to a March 30 e-mail sent to members by Bill Hickman, the Surfrider Foundation’s San Diego Chapter Coordinator, “The Surfrider Foundation and our partners in the environmental community advocate for establishing proper standards for these facilities … for the first desalinization project in Carlsbad. The San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board will be making a very important decision in early April regarding requirements of an ocean desalinization facility – which will likely set precedent statewide.”

The e-mail also states that Poseidon is not taking the best design, location, and choice of technology into account.

The issue gets fishy, though, when you consider that Poseidon sometimes contradicts what it says. For example, “Our concept is that the power plant in Carlsbad uses 600 million gallons of water a day,” Maloni says. “Our desal plant will tap into the discharge. We take the plant’s discharge and turn it into drinking water. We have no marine life impact. The power plant takes in the water, not us … ”

Maloni says once Poseidon’s plan is approved, the second power plant will work in conjunction with the over 40-year-old semi-operable Carlsbad desalinization plant, and will cause environmental impact.

In Maloni’s first interview, while talking quickly, he says Poseidon will use the two newer generators, which will have 600 millions of gallons of water a day passing through them. Yet, he says the power plant uses only about 275 millions of gallons of water a day. Does that mean if Poseidon’s plan is approved, they will have 600 millions of gallons a day of ocean water being sucked through? Yet in the second interview, he says Poseidon is only required, by the NPDES permit, to use 304 millions of gallons of water a day.

Surfrider wants zero marine life mortality. Poseidon will create marine life impact, but will create a 55.4 acre site of wetlands to offset its impact with its proposed power plant that will suck in marine organisms.

“We are required to offset all the water we use, which has impact, by creating the 55.4 acres – mitigation acreage” Maloni says. “But if we’re flowing more water than the (current) power plant, the impact is our impact. But if we flow less water than the (current) power plant, it is their impact. It takes two gallons of water to make one gallon of drinking water.”

How does marine life get killed during the desalination process?

One way marine organisms get killed is by having the water salinity, which is the salt content, level too high, according to Muilenburg. He feels that if Poseidon’s plan were to be approved, and if Poseidon were to increase the salinity level of the ocean while it discharges the second, unusable gallon, it probably won’t affect humans. Yet, Muilenburg is quick to relay his environmental concern.

“Critters live in there, but will the local marine life notice it? Maybe, if the salinity is slightly higher.”

According to a PDF titled Flow, Entrainment and Impingement Minimization Plan, which was shown to the decision-makers of the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board by Poseidon,
“… the proposed desalinization plant operation would cause a de minimis increase in impingement and entrainment of marine organisms.”

Maloni says “Impingement is when larger fish are pressed up against the screen and they can’t get off the screen. Entrainment occurs when micro-organisms get sucked into the screen and die because of the turbulence. How do we offset the impact of marine life? By the mitigation acreage.”

Surfrider representative Jared Criscuolo, who attended the April 8 meeting, was not available for comment.

According to the Surfrider Foundation, San Diego chapter Web site:
“Surfrider filed suit against the California Coastal Commission (CCC) [in 2008] for inappropriately granting a Coastal Development Permit (CDP) to Poseidon Resources for its proposed Carlsbad desalination facility. The lawsuit alleges the CCC acted prematurely, without fully understanding the environmental impacts of the project or how such impacts would ultimately be mitigated.

“Because Poseidon seeks to take advantage of highly damaging seawater intake infrastructure currently being used by the Encina Power Plant, and the power plant is in the process of abandoning the intake technology altogether, Surfrider's suit seeks to force Poseidon to assess the impacts of its facility as a ‘stand-alone’ project.”

Environmental watchdogs, like Muilenburg, may have to contend with Surfrider Foundation. Even Maloni admits that Poseidon will be working with the owners of the old Carlsbad power plant, although he guess the plant will be decommissioned in about 15 or 20 years. It may be as if Poseidon really hasn’t thought about the best way to reduce impact, if they want to continue using only two-fifths of an already decrepit power plant.

Maloni says the hearing went well. He says the staff of the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board “had argued we needed double the mitigation acreage.”

However, he says the directors – the decision makers – agreed with Poseidon.
“We accept they will approve the minimization plan,” he says. “We think we’ve clearly demonstrated that 55.4 acres is sufficient.”

Sometime in May the San Diego Regional Water Quality Board will decide if Poseidon followed the NPDES permit satisfactorily. Until then, Surfrider Foundation will have to hold its breath and hope that Poseidon’s plan – any part of it – will not be approved.

Update: Poseidon Resources did receive an OK to build a new plant in Carlsbad.

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