The California Coastal Commission’s staff is notorious for its hard-edged anti-growth policies, so we weren’t surprised that it issued a report this week opposing a long-planned desalination facility at a shuttered industrial site at Huntington Beach. Fortunately, the commission’s 12-member board can still approve the Poseidon facility next month.
Even Gov. Gavin Newsom understands what’s at stake in the permitting of a facility that could meet 16% of Orange County’s urban water needs. “This administration is committed to ensuring the sustainability of California’s water supply with an all-of-the-above strategy, and that includes desalination,” Newsom’s office said in a statement.
We’re hoping the governor and the board members are paying attention to the latest news, even if it’s lost on the commission staff. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California recently called for Southern Californians to cut back their water usage by a startling 30% to deal with a drought “unlike anything we’ve experienced before.”
Desalination isn’t the only solution, but it is one of many strategies to make a large dent in the problem. A nearly identical plant opened in Carlsbad in 2015 has met nearly 10% of San Diego County’s water needs. Desalinated water is more costly than imported water, but the price difference is compressing as imported water is harder to come by.
Specifically, the report worries about climate-change-caused sea-level rise, and the potential for flooding around the plant. It is concerned about the facility’s intake pipes, which will affect localized populations of microscopic plankton — and about “environmental justice,” given that higher water prices will harm poor people the most.
These are environmentalist talking points, not serious arguments. The only logical place to put a desalination facility is along the coast. There will be no serious effects on plankton populations in the massive Pacific Ocean. Poor people will suffer most if the state runs out of water. The environmental problems caused by water shortages — e.g., subsidence from over-pumping — are far more severe. It’s time to permit this facility and implement that “all-of-the-above” strategy.