Fish and Game Commission clarifies role on desalination project

State agency doesn’t have decision-making authority on saltwater conversion plant, but can provide input on marine life effects.

ATASCADERO — Plans to build a desalination plant continues to be a hot topic among various local, regional and state agencies, so much so that California’s Fish and Game Commission defined the role it played in Poseidon’s quest to build a saltwater conversion plant in Huntington Beach.

The commission does not have direct decision-making power, as other agencies have the power to determine whether Poseidon would be permitted to move forward with it desalination plant plans in Huntington Beach.

Instead the commission’s involved with the desalination plant is to determine whether, when operational, it would affect local marine life and nearby Marine Protected Areas.

“This commission is not playing a role in whether [desalination] should or should not happen. We’re not ever going to make a judgment on whether it’s a good or bad thing, whether [the plant] should or should not be built. Our focus is on whether or not the construction of a [desalination] plant would have any impact or would take any wildlife,” Commission Chair Eric Sklar said.

Susan Ashcraft, a marine advisor with the Fish and Game Commission, said neither the commission nor its associated department has direct permitting authority when it comes to the effect of desalination plants on marine life, but both entities are still involved in the permitting process.

Commissioners and commission staff, however, do provide recommendations on how to provide ecological safeguards into the project’s design and operations. Commission staff also makes recommendations on environmental quality compliance.

Recommendations are also made on resource protection, according to Ashcraft.

The Fish and Game Commission also serves as a member of the MPA statewide leadership team, which was established in 2014 and includes permitting authority partners.

“This may provide a platform to facilitate commission and department coordination with those permitting agencies throughout project development and the decision process to minimize impacts to marine resources associated with Marine Protected Areas,” Ashcraft told commissioners during their Oct. 12 meeting in Atascadero.

The commission has previously expressed concern of the potential impacts of Poseidon’s planned desalination plant on marine organism off the coast of Huntington Beach and surrounding Marine Protected Areas.

Oceana’s Geoff Shester said it was important for the commission to play some sort of role in the discussion to bring a desalination plant to Huntington Beach.

“It’s certainly important for the commission to take a role here, due to the take of marine life both from the intake of sea water as well as the stuff that comes out of these desalination plants. Messing with water chemistry at a time with climate change and ocean acidification is not a good idea,” Chester said in his comments to the commission.

The Fish and Game Commission has already communicated questions to the California Coastal Commission and Poseidon, the developer proposing a desalination plant in Huntington Beach.

The commission has spoke with stakeholders on both sides of the desalination debate, according to Commissioner Anthony Williams.

Parimal M. Rohit photo

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