Governor Gavin Newsom frequently says California is a leader in sustainability and the transition away from fossil fuels. The governor has also issued an executive order to fight climate change in response to the deadly wildfires that ravaged our state last year. Despite these public statements and official efforts, it’s puzzling that his administration has been promoting the climate-wrecking Poseidon desalination plant in Huntington Beach as an infrastructure to source additional water for California.
There are plenty of things we can do to ensure that Southern Californians have enough water to thrive. Cisterns and rain barrels could be placed adjacent to every building to capture rainwater. We could create more permeable surfaces to capture more water in the ground instead of letting it flow with pollutants to the storm drains and into the ocean. We can also continue to incentivize drought-resistant landscaping and the installation of high efficiency toilets, shower heads, and even grey water systems in commercial buildings and in homes. Thousands of local green jobs could be created and would keep workers in the trades steadily employed for years by optimizing our water infrastructure for conservation. Governor Newsom could champion water conservation, promote nature-based solutions that protect biodiversity.
Maximizing our conservation efforts to capture more water would be safer for the environment and less costly than a $1.4 billion dollar desalination plant. Numerous studies show that desalinated water is the most expensive source of water. Our county already has one of the largest and most successful potable water reuse facilities in the world. In addition, recycling water uses less energy than removing salt water from the ocean. And we know that the Poseidon plant would run off of dirty electricity produced by the adjacent AES gas plant. We do not need to extend the life of dirty power plants that run off of fracked gas, which is what Poseidon in Huntington Beach would do.
Poseidon and its advocates like to say that desalination is the only “climate-resilient” way to source water, but this isn’t true. Just last year, Poseidon’s Carlsbad desalination plant had to shut down for weeks because of red tide. With the warming climate, it’s likely that we will experience more algal blooms, which would put the proposed Huntington Beach plant at risk for shutdowns. In addition to red tide, the plant would be at risk for damage because of sea level rise, another consequence of climate change.
Governor Newsom has also repeatedly told us that we should listen to science and be guided by scientific experts in matters related to the environment and public health. Science tells us desalination plants harm our environment with the toxic brine and chemicals they leave behind. Desalination contributes to lowering oxygen levels in the ocean, and lower oxygen levels kill marine life and contribute to increases of diseases in the water that impact our marine ecosystem. We rely on a healthy coast and Pacific Ocean for tourism, fishing, recreation, and to help us mitigate the effects of climate change.
A Green New Deal for California must ensure we build affordable housing. That task gets a lot harder when public funds are stifled to build a private desalination plant that would only benefit Brookfield, a foreign corporation and parent company of Poseidon. As of today, the tax-exempt California Debt Limit Allocation Committee bond allocations are oversubscribed with many applicants looking for funds to build affordable housing, allocating $1.1 billion to Poseidon as they requested would be reprehensible.
Finally, young people like me, the ones who will be living with the significant impacts of climate change for most of our lives, will be left holding the bag if Poseidon’s Huntington Beach plant is built. The contract that Poseidon is proposing is for 50 years! Governor Newsom and the proponents of the Poseidon plant in Huntington Beach will be long gone once the contract ends, and tax payers of my generation are left with decommissioning this plant and cleaning up its waste. Governor Newsom should not tarnish his legacy by leaving us a fish-killing, climate-wrecking boondoggle so that a foreign company can make a profit from Californians who are struggling.
Alejandro Sobrera is currently the Orange County Hub Coordinator for the Sunrise Movement, a youth led effort to bring about a just transition to a greener world. He is a 20 year resident of Anaheim.
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