Maestas: Poseidon Desalination Would Worsen Environmental Injustice in Orange County

Adriana in Corona del Mar

What would California be without the beach? I grew up in Irvine with an awareness of how fortunate we are to live near the ocean. As a child, my parents and babysitters took me and my brother to Corona Del Mar and Newport Beach frequently during the summer. I have many happy memories of enjoying the waves at “our beaches” while bodysurfing, building sandcastles, and seeing fish, anemones, sandcrabs, dolphins and jellyfish! We also took school field trips to Crystal Cove to learn about the ecosystem. These experiences taught me to respect the ocean and to understand that it is alive, a home for sea life and people.

That’s why it’s upsetting that our regional water board is moving closer to issuing permits for a project near my hometown that will harm our ocean, make us more vulnerable to climate change, and make our drinking water more expensive. The project is a massive ocean water desalination plant being proposed by a global corporation called Poseidon that has its sights on Huntington Beach.

Poseidon’s desalination proposal has significant problems, starting with its outrageous costs. The plant would cost $1 billion to build and Orange County customers would be paying for it for at least 30 years. There are many cheaper ways to get clean drinking water. A Municipal Water District of Orange County (MWDOC) study ranked Poseidon’s desalination plant as the most expensive of all options for drinking water. A gallon of desalinated water costs twice as much as a gallon of recycled water and about three times as much as a gallon from groundwater storage.

Poseidon’s desalination boondoggle would also harm our ocean. The plant’s massive intake pipes with flimsy 1-millimeter screens would suck in and kill fish eggs, starfish, oysters, plankton and other marine animals. And Poseidon would pump out highly salty wastewater laden with chemicals, creating a dead zone off of Huntington Beach. Under the current permits, Poseidon would also be allowed to dump up to 13,000 gallons of oil and grease per day in our ocean. That’s equivalent to an oil spill every single day!

Poseidon’s proposal is also a climate disaster. Located right on the beach, the facility would be vulnerable to flooding, rising sea levels, and extreme storms intensified by climate change.

Water pipes running through a toxic waste site next-door would only compound these risks. Poseidon’s desalination plant will also increase carbon pollution at a time we need to be moving away from fossil fuels. The desalination plant would use enough electricity to power 30,000 homes, every day.

Worst of all, the Poseidon desalination project would worsen environmental injustice in Southern California. Low-income families and communities of color—who already face the worst impacts of climate change and housing costs—would be locked into paying for more expensive drinking water. A UCLA study found that the Poseidon desalination plant would cause moderate to severe increase in water bills for Orange County working families like mine.

These are the reasons why hundreds of community activists like me, representing groups like Azul, Residents for Responsible Desalination, Orange County Coastkeeper, Oak View CommUNIDAD, and the Sunrise Movement, showed up to the regional water board meeting in December to say “No Poseidon.”

Because of our dry Southern California climate, many of us already conserve water at home. For instance, I never leave the tap running, try to take shorter showers, and put my houseplants outside when it rains. And I hope to get a rainwater barrel, like some of my neighbors. If Orange County residents can do our part to conserve water, then government agencies can too! We must exhaust cost-effective options like rainwater capture, water recycling, and fixing leaky pipes, before we consider a massive desalination project that will severely raise the cost of water for Orange County residents.

Ironically, the water board voted on a resolution affirming the Human Right to Water at the December meeting. Yet the UCLA study shows how the Poseidon desalination project directly interferes with this human right by worsening affordability for our communities. If water rates go up, renters like me in Fullerton and small businesses like laundromats, restaurants, salons, dry cleaners and car washes, will feel the squeeze.

Latinx, Asian and other communities of color in Orange County are already overburdened with pollution. Kids who live in inland cities like Anaheim, Fullerton and Buena Park today should have the same opportunities to enjoy the healthy ocean that I did as a child! Huntington Beach visitors shouldn’t have to worry about sick and dead marine animals washing up onshore, oil rigs off the coast, or a destructive desalination plant on the beach.

As the water board approaches their final vote on permits this spring, I hope they remember the State Water Boards’ mission — “to preserve, enhance, and restore the quality of California’s water resources and drinking water… for the benefit of present and future generations” — and see that Poseidon’s desalination plant stands in direct conflict.

Adriana Maestas was raised in Irvine and currently lives in Fullerton. She is the communications manager for Azul, an organization working with Latinxs to conserve coasts and oceans. Ms. Maestas is also a freelance writer and consultant with a background in media and education. Her written work has been published in a variety of digital and print publications including TeleSUR English, Truthout.org, the Huffington Post, NBC Latino, KCET.org, BlogHer.com, and Alternet. She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of California, Irvine and a master’s degree in public policy from Claremont Graduate University

For a different view on this issue, consider: 

Barrera: Climate Change Is the Real Threat to Latinx

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