Last winter’s extreme storms notwithstanding, water remains scarce in California. Between climate change and ongoing growth, California can’t afford to squander a single gallon.
Yet in Orange County, a project that could increase water supply by 50 million potable gallons daily has been awaiting approval since 1998.
There are pros and cons aplenty to the $1 billion desalination plant proposed for Huntington Beach by Poseidon Water. And in the nearly 20 years during which state and local authorities mulled it, all have been masticated thoroughly.
It deserves approval. Desalination has worked in arid places such as Israel, and all options should be on the table. Besides, any water project that has the support of former U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, a longtime environmentalist, has passed vigorous scrutiny – and then some.
Like the plant Poseidon recently opened to the south in Carlsbad, the Huntington Beach facility would add a critical, if pricey, source of freshwater in drought years. Would it be a silver bullet? No. Would it pose environmental risks? Yes.
Like the coastal power plant it would replace, it would be an oceanfront eyesore. Also it could hog energy, discharge brine and suck mass quantities of seawater, potentially endangering marine life.
That said, oil well-studded Huntington Beach isn’t exactly Point Reyes, and the desalination plant would be smaller and less aesthetically offensive than the ugly smokestacks and boilers that occupy the site now.
From a statewide perspective, the Poseidon Water plant in Orange County would ease demand on Northern California’s snowpack and rivers, relieve pressure on the fragile Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, and help drought-proof the water supply for arid Southern California.
Its operator, acquired in recent years by the publicly traded Brookfield Infrastructure Partners of Boston, has put forth many volumes of plans for mitigation. Poseidon says it will protect nearby wetlands, minimize energy consumption, make the plant carbon neutral, deal with the brine and protect sea life.
Meanwhile, from a statewide perspective, it would ease demand on Northern California’s snowpack and rivers, relieve pressure on the fragile Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, and help drought-proof the water supply for arid Southern California, where every drop counts.
All this and more has been analyzed and considered. In fact, over the years, as environmental regulations shifted and tightened, the plant’s operators have twice restarted the application process from scratch.
But two decades is much too long to still be looking. It’s time to show that California can still get important projects like this one done.