Judge Strikes Down Challenge to Carlsbad Desal Project

Two months after hearing arguments on the State Lands Commission’s decision to approve the Carlsbad Desalination Project (CDP), San Diego Superior Court Judge Judith Hayes denied a challenge by San Diego Coastkeeper and Surfrider Foundation.

Last August, the State Lands Commission approved a lease amendment for the plant to collocate with an existing power plant, the Encina Power Station. The commission’s approval came two years after initial environmental review documents were completed. Environmental groups, including Coastkeeper, argued changes to the project since 2006 necessitated further review. Originally approved as a co-located project, the desalination plant is now planned to operate as a stand-alone facility because the power plant is shutting down.

Some of the issues the State Lands Commission failed to adequately analyze were negative marine life impacts and greenhouse gas emissions. Relying on previous agency actions, the commission required mitigation to offset environmental impacts, rather than completing impacts analysis or evaluating project alternatives and avoidance measures.

“Before it approved the project, the commission was obligated to study the possible environmental ramifications in light of the major changes,” stated Marco Gonzalez of Coast Law Group, representing Coastkeeper. “The judge failed to acknowledge the reality of the project’s operations.”

San Diego Coastkeeper has promoted a water supply hierarchy for years, in order to avoid just the sort of impacts caused by this project. Coastkeeper routinely advocates for conservation and smart land use practices to be considered first, followed by water reuse and recycling, and lastly responsible, environmentally friendly desalination if needed.

“We are not opposed to desalination,” noted San Diego Coastkeeper attorney, Livia Borak. “We are for responsible water supply choices, and the State Lands approval was not made responsibly or legally.”

Coastkeeper and Surfrider have advocated for more stringent permits and additional mitigation to offset the environmental impacts from the facility. The efforts of these groups played a critical role in getting up to 55 acres of wetland creation/restoration in Southern California and nearly 900,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide offsets over the life of the project to minimize negative impacts from the facility.

“We at Coastkeeper are proud of our efforts to make this project more environmentally sound,” added Borak. “However, even with the mitigation approved, the CDP will have a tremendous negative impact on our coastal environment and climate which was not fully taken into account by the agencies in approving this project.”

San Diego Coastkeeper has also appealed the Regional Board’s approval of the project. The State Board recently decided to review that action.

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