One of the final legal hurdles to construct the controversial Huntington Beach Desalination Project was ended Friday, following a state appellate court ruling in favor of constructing the plant.
The California Third District Court of Appeal specifically ruled in California Coastkeeper Alliance v. California State Lands Commission that they would deny the plaintiff’s petition to overturn a 2019 Sacramento County Superior Court ruling that okayed a 2017 California State Lands Commission amended lease in Huntington Beach for the desalination plant.
The proposed Poseidon Water Huntington Beach plant, which would convert seawater to drinkable water, was first proposed in the early 2000’s and has been the subject of seven lawsuits and dozens of local efforts to stop the plant since 2005. In more recent years, several environmental and shoreline protection groups such as the California Coastkeeper Alliance, California Coastal Protection Network, and Orange County Coastkeepers have increased the number of petitions against the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board, the California State Lands Commission, and other agencies that have given the green light for the project. More petitions had also been filed despite Poseidon Water adding better technology to further mitigate the impact of the plant on local sea life and working closely with state environmental authorities.
Last year, the question over who would help decide the future of the plant was questioned following Governor Gavin Newsom’s controversial Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board move of replacing a director who had questioned and opposed the plant in favor of someone more likely to approve of the plant. As noted by the Globe last month, the proposed plant has also had to battle several rumors and instances of false information, such as the plant falsely being mentioned as being built on a Superfund site and the plant falsely being said that it would create ecological ‘dead zones’ caused by the desalination intake and process.
Legal recourse still possible despite ruling
While legal recourse is still possible for groups opposed to the project, Friday’s appellate ruling largely removes many legal avenues remaining for them to sue or petition. This is in large part due to the appellate ruling also nixing several other points that plaintiffs had previously brought up, such as the appellate court upholding that the State Lands Commission had properly analyzed the desalination plant proposal under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
“The desalination facility will provide Orange County with a new, drought-proof drinking water supply that will protect public health and safety in the face of changing climate conditions,” said Poseidon Vice President and Huntington Beach Project Manager Scott Maloni on Friday. “We’re pleased with the California Court of Appeal’s thoughtful validation of the State Lands Commission’s approval of the Project and we look forward to obtaining the remaining permits and approvals necessary to build the plant.”
Legal experts noted that while the appellate ruling has reduced the number of ways that environmental groups could sue to stop the project, it is by no means over.
“The Huntington Beach plant is still not a done deal, despite being first formulate during the Bush administration,” explained environmental lawyer Jon Hansen to the Globe. “There are still several permitting issues and approvals needed, and all of these new amendments, which have had to be made often enough over the last decade and a half because of constantly changing laws and tech and other needs, still need approval too.
“But today was big, because the court really said to them that ‘Hey, this is going through and there’s not much you can do about it now’.”
Final approvals of the desalination project are expect by the end of the year barring any further legal action.