California has never been a stranger to environmental justice problems – at one point or another our communities, including farmworkers, families and students have had to fight against the health impacts caused by poisons in pesticides, persistent industrial contaminants produced by refineries, decades of urban oil drilling and toxic battery recycling operating next to their homes and schools, as well as fracking and poor air quality, to name a few.
Within Orange County, Oak View neighbors have been living in proximity of a 17-acre trash dump that subjects them to nauseating smells around the clock. For decades, the Huntington Beach residents (including two schools) around Rainbow Environmental Facilities, have had to endure noxious fumes described by some as akin to the smell of dead corpses.
In this context, it is perplexing to see some in the community refer to the billion dollar Poseidon boondoggle as an Environmental Justice priority while irresponsibly mentioning drought stricken Porterville as if it the plant would benefit them.
The proposed desalination plant in Huntington Beach has some hurdles to cross before the project can proceed.
But one thing we do know is that Orange County Water District plans to continue taking its full allocation from the State Water Project every year, so building this plant will not benefit dry inland communities like Porterville.
The water is going to stay in the county, and, while Poseidon is trying to play off drought fears, the latest Urban Water Management Plan shows that Orange County has all the water it needs for now and the next 25 years.
Orange County residents need re-evaluate the cost and energy that will go into this project. On its surface desalination sounds like a good idea, but there are hidden costs once you scratch that surface.
According to a 2013 study from the Department of Water Resources, the cost of water obtained from desalination is roughly double that from water that comes from building a new reservoir or wastewater recycling. The energy that a desalination plant requires is outrageous because of the reverse osmosis process. And then with rising sea levels, planners would have to factor in how to protect the desalination plant from the water that it is supposed to treat.
Before resorting to an expensive solution to get more water, we should look to maximize conservation efforts and for ways to capture rainwater. In some parts of Orange County, there are still sprinklers that aren’t scheduled to water at night and plenty of properties where lawns could still be ripped out and replaced with drought tolerant native plants. When we do get rain, much of it simply goes back down the storm drains instead of staying in the ground or finding its way into storage receptacles. Green alleyways could be restored in some of our cities to promote the capture of rainwater as well as water barrels strategically placed under public and private buildings. Projects such as these would be great for urban and planning and landscape architect students. High school students looking to earn community service hours could chip in.
The latest attempt to frame the desalination plant as a social justice issue for Latinos is probably one of the more ridiculous arguments in favor of this project. The Latino community is sensitive to cost, and a project that will raise water costs in the immediate term is not something that a community who is impacted by price hikes needs. We are quite good at conserving and know how to stretch resources. If we aren’t even maximizing our efforts with water capture and preserving the ground water that we do have, why should we rush to support the expensive Poseidon project?
Latinos in California have fought for decades to overcome environmental injustices – equating an expensive, superfluous project that benefits only investors to the life threatening struggles at hand is not only offensive, it belies an ignorance about our environmental justice issues, and ultimately, confirms how worthless the plant would be to our communities.
Adriana Maestas resides in Fullerton, California. She is a freelance writer, educator, and environmentally conscious citizen. She grew up enjoying the beautiful beaches in Orange County.
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