Commentary written by Charming Evelyn, chair of the Water Committee and vice chair of the Environmental Justice Committee at Sierra Club Angeles Chapter, and Nancy Buchoz, a Huntington Beach resident.
It’s raining drought dollars in California! The state has a $30 billion budget surplus, and billions of federal infrastructure dollars pouring in. Water is a top priority, with good reason in the midst of drought, but we have to spend our money wisely.
That not only means fixing aging infrastructure, but also choosing climate-smart and cost-effective water supplies, to ensure the projects we pay for now don’t drive more drought or more water debt for hardworking families that are already struggling to pay rising bills.
One drought “solution” that should be taken with a grain of salt is ocean desalination. Desalination’s high cost and the outsized energy demands should make it a last-resort for communities that have maxed out better options like conservation, recycling and catching rain.
Unfortunately, the hefty price tag has drawn profiteers like Poseidon Water, which is pushing a $1.4 billion Huntington Beach desalination plant they hope to pay for with our taxes. The plant would suck up tons of energy, and, we’re not buying claims they will “work toward” clean power given the company’s dismal environmental record. It would drive up water rates like Poseidon’s Carlsbad plant did in San Diego. What’s more, they want to build it in the flood zone, alongside a former landfill where construction could unearth toxic waste. Rather than continuing to industrialize our coast, we need to bring back wetlands that can slow the tides and filter out pollution.
Desalination companies want us to believe desalting seawater is a silver bullet for our water woes, but we know there’s a better way.
With all the state and federal dollars coming down the pipe, California has an opportunity to fund water infrastructure that works with nature and supports healthy communities.
For example, we can build a more secure local water supply by investing in “win-win-win” stormwater projects like green streets and beautiful parks that sink and store rainwater that would normally be purged to the ocean, picking up pollutants on the way. And we could bring justice to thousands living in under-invested communities. Replacing pavement with plants would not only help refill our underground aquifers, it would also protect people from flooding, heat, and air pollution.
Conservation is also key to help us adapt as it gets hotter and drier. Household water savings do make a difference, like how Los Angeles uses less water today than it did 50 years ago, despite having added a million residents. But we also need industry to do their part–– and there’s huge untapped savings in the agricultural sector that uses 80% of California’s water.
We can also recycle more water, and we have success stories to look to, including right in Orange County. Statewide, California treats 4 billion gallons of wastewater daily, but several communities are scaling up recycling, including Los Angeles which aims to reuse 100% of its wastewater by 2023. Imagine the comfort we could have if the whole state had a robust water recycling program instead of saying “yes” to Wall Street water projects like Poseidon.
We have a chance now to invest in long-term solutions to sustain our waters and our communities.
We know there’s a better path if the right investments are made, which is why it’s important to stand up against companies like Poseidon that are muddying the waters with greed and false promises. The California Coastal Commission will consider the Poseidon project in May. If you have the ability to, please send a message to the Commissioners that we need solutions that benefit us all for the long term, not just Poseidon and the people it lobbies.
Charming Evelyn is chair of the Water Committee and vice chair of the Environmental Justice Committee at Sierra Club Angeles Chapter, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nancy Buchoz is a Huntington Beach resident concerned about impacts to her community from Poseidon’s desalination plant.