Remember Shelly Winters swimming through the tunnel of wreckage on the tsunami-flipped ocean liner in the ‘70s cult classic “The Poseidon Adventure”? Although she tried valiantly to swim through the tunnel of water, she didn’t make it through alive. The proposed Poseidon Resources desalination project in Carlsbad is very similar to the doomed ship. Instead of Shelly Winters’ character, it is the fish and marine larvae that just can’t make it through the seawater intake without dying.
If the Coastal Commission approves the revised findings for the project on Wednesday, the giant desalination project will suck the life out of 300 million gallons per day (MGD) of seawater from the Agua Hedionda Lagoon, one of the few remaining coastal estuaries left in Southern California. That’s 300 million gallons a day of estuarine water to provide only 50 MGD of potable water!!
Why so much to produce so little? Because the outfall for the brine (the concentrated seawater that needs to be disposed of after the use of reverse osmosis) is an onshore outfall with no dilution in the ocean, so Poseidon needs to add an additional 200 MGD to the brine to meet California Ocean Plan water quality standards. That’s 200 MGD full of larval fish and juvenile fish from the protected nursery of the lagoon.
Heal the Bay and other environmental groups oppose the desalination project because of the impacts on marine life and the precedent it sets for co-located desalination projects along California’s coast. (It’s a long story – but desalination can legally justify the continuance of destructive and illegal once-through cooling power plants that suck the life out of billions of gallons of ocean water a day in California. ) But here’s a crazy question: Why doesn’t Poseidon have an ocean intake and outfall with a diffuser? The impacts on marine life would be improved dramatically because they’d only have to suck the life out of 100 MGD of seawater, as the diffuser would provide dilution instead of more seawater. This solution also would greatly reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. The ultimate irony of this situation is that NRG is replacing the antique, once through cooling power plant with the energy efficient, closed-cycle cooling power plant that the environmental community has been pushing as the industry standard for the entire California coast.
There are still three places to fight this poorly conceived project. First, at the Coastal Commission hearing on Wednesday. Fair warning, though: the Commission has already approved the project. They will discuss findings and mitigation for the loss of marine life from the estuary and the greenhouse gas impacts of the energy hogging desalination project. Second, at the State Lands Commission, the agency with Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, Controller John Chiang and Director of Finance Michael Genest at the helm. Maybe the best shot at changing or opposing the project. And finally, join Surfrider Foundation and the San Diego Coastkeeper’s fight against the project by sending an action alert letter. They are providing strong leadership on the issue.
Save the fish from the Poseidon Misadventure. Come on out to the Coastal Commission hearing on Wednesday in Oceanside at 9 a.m. and make yourself heard.