Two environmental groups have sued the California Coastal Commission, seeking to overturn its November approval of a seawater desalination plant in Carlsbad.

The Surfrider Foundation and Planning and Conservation League filed the suit in San Diego Superior Court, alleging that the commission was unjustified in its decision, failing to properly assess the plant’s potential impacts on nearby marine life.

The desalination plant, proposed by Connecticut-based Poseidon Resources, proposes to convert 100 million gallons of seawater into 50 million gallons of drinking water each day.

The environmental groups argue that the commission’s 9-3 vote was not based in solid fact: The commission’s staff had recommended rejecting the proposal. In making their decision, commissioners asked Poseidon to bring forward more information, including details about its mitigation strategy to offset the marine life that would be sucked in and killed in the plant’s intake pipes.

“You can’t approve a project until you know what its impacts are,” said Marco Gonzalez, a Surfrider Foundation attorney who filed the suit. “Some of the commissioners had a blind fervor to approving the project come hell or high water.”

Scott Maloni, spokesman for Poseidon Resources, called the suit “a delay tactic” and said the company did not expect it to affect the start of the project’s construction later this year.

Arguments on both sides focus on what the impact of the plant’s open seawater intake will have on marine life — and whether a mitigation strategy that includes restoration of the San Dieguito River Park is sufficient. The open intake draws water in through the Agua Hedionda Lagoon; environmentalists have argued that sucking water in through wells dug below the ocean’s surface would be less harmful.

Gonzalez argued that “not a single state agency has determined their intake solution is viable. It’s never been challenged in court and it’s never been addressed by a state agency.”

Maloni argued the opposite, pointing to the city of Carlsbad’s approval of the project’s environmental impact report, which evaluated the intake’s impacts. “This is the superior intake technology for this site,” Maloni said. “What the opponents have been unable to prove is that for this specific site the (open) intake is not the superior alternative. These aren’t new arguments.”

ROB DAVIS

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