We are in a drought, a mega drought. Many even claim that California is in a state of emergency, but drought and flooding is now the new normal. What we are experiencing is climate change, exacerbated by severe water management problems. Yet, few are stepping up to the plate to ensure a sustainable water supply and to protect the human right to water.

Californians use an average of 102 gallons per capita per day (gpcd), with some districts like Rancho Santa Fe using a whopping 272 gpcd. In 2018, Assemblymember Laura Friedman championed AB 1668, which makes California agencies budget for 50 gpcd by 2030, but unfortunately the efficiency and conservation measures were not codified in that bill. AB 1434, introduced this year, does that, but water agencies fought back and killed that bill for now, since they want to keep selling water, even if we don’t have all the water they want to sell. Water agencies are supposed to be water management entities, but in reality, they think of themselves as profit centers and that impetus jeopardizes the human right to water.

It should be a no-brainer to invest meaningfully in efficiency and conservation while managing California water supplies responsibly and equitably. And it should also be obvious that we need to build better water infrastructure using good green sustainable jobs to make our state truly resilient. Instead, we are contemplating corporate boondoggles, like the Huntington Beach Poseidon desalination plant, that give us little water with a hefty price tag, Fixing leaky pipes in Southern California, in fact leak an average of 17%, would give us substantially more water than any desalination plant can, without wasting enormous amounts of energy, killing sea life or privatizing our water by a foreign corporation.

Poseidon claims its supply is “climate resilient” but just last year its Carlsbad plant had to shut down for weeks due to the presence of algal blooms, also known as red tides, along our coasts. With a warmer climate we can only expect more red tides. Poseidon has also failed to deliver the 50 million gallons of water it said it would produce every day and has been issued multiple notices of violation for exceeding ocean discharge toxicity limitations due to chemical additives. Since Poseidon started operations in San Diego in late 2015, water bills have skyrocketed and now San Diego has some of the most expensive water in the nation. Affordability is a key component of the human right to water, and we must ensure we do not replicate the mistake we made in Carlsbad by approving another desalination plant in Huntington Beach.

As the climate gets warmer, the transition to 100% renewable energy is more urgent than ever. Our current reliance on fossil fuels gives us Flex Alerts and black outs, as suppliers cannot ensure reliability during record-setting heatwaves. Switching the existing load plus adding the electrification of transportation is already a huge undertaking. The transition to 100% renewable energy must be focused on responsible and efficient energy use. This means we must support nature-based, efficient public water projects and stop investing in privatized water projects like Poseidon that contribute to the climate crisis and ocean pollution.

The cheapest kilowatt is the one we don’t have to produce. And the cheapest gallon of water is the one that we don’t have to source; that is why efficiency and conservation play a crucial role in our immediate future. Prioritizing profits for corporations at the expense of resiliency and climate leadership is not an option.

Andrea León-Grossmann is the Director of Climate Action of Azul, a San Francisco-based grassroots organization that works with the Latinx community to protect our coasts and ocean. 

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