Posted on August 10, 2022
Poseidon Resources, the company that built and operates the Carlsbad seawater desalination plant, is in violation of its California Coastal Commission permit for the restoration of wetlands habitat at the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge in South San Diego Bay.
A permit the commission approved April 30, 2021, required Poseidon to start the restoration work by Oct. 30, 2021, according to a staff report prepared for next week’s Coastal Commission meeting. The work has not started, although it is on track to begin this fall.
“We are hopeful that we can resolve this matter without resorting to formal action,” states a letter the commission sent to the company earlier this year. “We expect that you will commence construction as soon as possible (which we understand is limited by nesting season at the refuge) and continue to comply with all other terms and conditions of the permit.”
Work in the wetlands is prohibited from early spring to mid-fall, which is nesting season for protected species of birds such as the snowy plover and the least tern.
The company announced in February it had selected a contractor, Odin Construction Solutions, to do the earthwork for the restoration. Construction is expected to be completed in late 2024.
Poseidon President Sachin Chawla said Friday by telephone that the company has done its best to comply with the permit.
“We installed some fencing and did some surveys in 2021,” he said. “In our mind, we started construction … but we didn’t have shovels in the ground moving dirt.”
A few conditions in the permit conflict with the October start date, he said. In addition to the nesting season restrictions, the process of obtaining the necessary permits from local, state and federal agencies is time-consuming and complex.
Poseidon plans to restore a total of 125 acres of coastal wetlands at two separate sites in the wildlife refuge. One is about 34 acres at the Otay River estuary near Imperial Beach. The other is 91 acres at an old salt evaporation pond called Pond 15 in Chula Vista. The sites were chosen in 2010, Chawla said.
Andy Yuen of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in February that the selection of a contractor for the work was “a critical milestone” in the Otay River Estuary Restoration Project.
“Poseidon has been a dedicated and responsible partner in thoughtfully planning, designing and implementing this project,” Yuen said in a news release. “Together, we look forward to delivering productive, natural habitat that will benefit the San Diego region for many future generations.”
Mitigation credits are based on the type of habitat created, such as tidal or upland, and some types of habitat are worth more than others. The 125 acres to be restored will provide Poseidon with a little more than the 66 acres in mitigation credits required by the permit.
The mitigation project is needed to address the negative environmental effects from the desalination plant’s “use of estuarian water and entrainment of marine organisms,” according to the commission’s report.
An independent monitoring program for the restoration will go to the Coastal Commission for approval Wednesday.
Similar mitigation was required decades ago when the Coastal Commission authorized the construction and operation of the San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station. Plant operator Southern California Edison was responsible for completing the San Dieguito Wetland Restoration Project at the Del Mar-Solana Beach border, along with other projects.
The Carlsbad seawater desalination plant provides about 10 percent of the potable water consumed in San Diego County under the company’s contract with the San Diego County Water Authority.