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The exploitation by opponents of seawater desalination of environmental justice concerns is both unfortunate and misguided (Maestas: Poseidon Desalination Would Worsen Environmental Injustice in Orange County).
The real threat to economically disadvantaged and communities of color is climate change and its effect on the environment and our water resources. As the oldest Hispanic civil rights organization in the United States, the United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) takes this threat very seriously and so does the state of California, which is why to date every state agency charged with permitting the Huntington Beach Desalination Project has done so.
The Latinx community, like all Californians, have the right to clean, reliable and affordable drinking water. It is in fact a Human Right. Orange County’s Latinx population continues to grow. We now make up more than one-third of all Orange County residents. As we grow and take more leadership roles in business, in government and in our communities, we have a responsibility to ensure that we are planning well for our future and the future of the next generation.
In an effort to fight climate change, Governor Newsom’s Administration has prepared a 2020 Water Resiliency Portfolio. Seawater desalination is identified as an important strategy in the Portfolio and the Huntington Beach Seawater Desalination plant is the very epitome of responsible planning for the future.
The vast majority of the state’s 40 million (and growing) residents live in coastal counties – Like Orange – bordering the Pacific Ocean. Desalination doesn’t depend on local precipitation or far-away snowpack. It’s a proven technology that’s worked around the world, and now it’s working here at home. The high-quality drinking water it will provide is 100% climate resilient and will reduce our reliance on imported water and protect us from drought. Beyond that, our drinking water is constantly under threat, either from contaminants of emerging concern or from seawater intruding into our underground aquifer. Desalination is the insurance policy we need to protect our water supply and prepare for the future.
In addition to providing Orange County with billions of gallons of water each year, this desalination plant will create jobs, tax revenue and provide environmental protection and preservation of the largest wetlands complex in Southern California – Bolsa Chica.
Everyone is concerned about the consumer household costs but it’s important to put the cost of water in perspective. We pay hundreds of dollars each month for utilities such as electricity, cable and internet. Water continues to be the best value around. Desalination is clean, safe, reliable water on tap 24-7 for less than a penny a gallon and estimated to cost a household $3 per month.
Several years ago, when the concept of turning Orange County’s wastewater into drinking water was first proposed, the same argument of cost was raised since it was cheaper to import water than to recycle water. But the visionary leaders at the Orange County Water District and Orange County Sanitation District forged forward and developed the state-of-the-art Groundwater Replenishment System that is touted as one of the great water infrastructure projects in the world.
If it were only about jobs and water, that would be enough to earn our support, but this project will also generate millions of dollars each year in tax revenue. About a million dollars a year that goes into the City of Huntington Beach’s general fund and another two-and-a-half million dollars a year for the local schools. We all want safer streets, better parks, longer library hours and quality schools. That is important to our future and this project will help ensure the funding is there.
We must be guided by facts and science. According to the UCLA’s Luskin Institute study, “Drinking water systems across Southern California face increasing risk from, and pressure to move away from, their historical reliance on imported water supply. This is due primarily to the rising cost of imported water as well as the related risk factors of drought, climate change, seismic risk, rising energy costs, and changes in regulation and court rulings … While exact definitions of water affordability remain a subject of debate … We find less of a concern regarding drinking water affordability at this consumption level in Orange County than elsewhere in the region or the state.”
Environmental justice was founded on the principle of protecting disadvantaged communities from public health and safety impacts associated with physical impacts like noise, traffic, air and water quality. None of these concerns are associated with the Huntington Beach Project. Attempting to argue that water costing less than a penny per gallon is a Human Right to Water or Environmental Justice concern does a disservice to an important cause that we cannot allow to be cheapened.
This is a project that complies with the new desalination rules in the Ocean Plan and was approved by then-Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom at the State Lands Commission meeting in 2018. Conservation and recycling are important, but we need new water supplies as well to protect Orange County from climate change impacts today and in the future.
Jose Barrera is California’s State Deputy Director for the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)
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