By Barbara Boxer
In December 2015, during California’s most recent drought, Poseidon Water opened a seawater desalination facility in Carlsbad which has since produced over 22 billion gallons of high-quality, drought-proof drinking water for San Diego County.
As a United States senator, much of my work included finding innovative solutions to address climate change which would reduce Californian’s pain in the face of predicted droughts. As such, I supported the Carlsbad project and it pleases me that such a huge majority of Californians support seawater desalination as well.
California has a great opportunity to replicate the success in Carlsbad through the state’s second large-scale seawater desalination project planned for Orange County’s Huntington Beach. State regulators will decide the fate of the Huntington Beach project in the coming months and much is at stake.
Seawater desalination and the Huntington Beach project’s potential is playing out every day in Carlsbad where the facility has a proven track record. It is bringing San Diego County a multitude of benefits including improvements in drinking water quality, attested by water districts through San Diego County from Carlsbad all the way down to the Mexican border, and water agencies have been insulated from mandatory cutbacks because of this climate-resilient water supply.
Serving more than 400,000 San Diegans, the Carlsbad plant boasts the only water supply that is not dependent on climate-driven rainfall or snowpack levels. These benefits have not gone unnoticed and the plant has received dozens of national and international awards for its design, energy efficiency and environmental features. In 2016, the State Water Resources Control Board designated the Carlsbad plant as a “drought-resilient” supply, a historic regulatory designation that offers great opportunity for Orange County.
Desalination is reliable, and reliability is crucial in the face of climate change which is bringing us horrific fires and droughts and dangerous heat waves. Without careful planning, these disasters put California’s water supply in grave danger. The consequences of being unprepared without a steady supply of water will be disastrous.
I have always believed that we must employ every tool at our disposal: recycling, recharging, conservation, and desalination. The Colorado River and the underground water basin, which supply water to part of the Orange County region, are strained and still recovering from the recent drought. The California Department of Water Resources, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and the Orange County Water District (OCWD) have stated the need for new, local sources of water and the Huntington Beach plant will expand Southern California’s options, making it less dependent on imported water from either the Colorado River or the environmentally constrained northern part of our state.
The Huntington Beach plant will produce 50 million gallons of drinking water per day — at a cost of a half-penny per gallon — regardless of the ongoing weather extremes. Eventually, the facility will be turned over to OCWD.
Despite the many wonderful benefits, and the success of Carlsbad, we unfortunately continue to see opposition to this project. It is stunning that a handful of isolated voices refuse to accept sound science and prepare in the face of climate change. These naysayers are behaving like climate change deniers, working, not only against the progress created by innovative environmentally friendly technology but also against a project that addresses California’s need for water in a way that will make it the most environmentally sound desalination plant in the world.
These opponents have become so desperate with their false narrative that they are now resorting to personal attacks against me and everyone associated with the project. These are the same people who recognized me with multiple awards for the work we did together in Washington to address the very real crisis of climate change, which always included the need for environmentally smart solutions, like the Huntington Beach project. We see too much of this personally destructive politics in our nation, and I would urge those voices to focus on the facts, not rhetoric.
The plant in Carlsbad serves as a shining example of the advances that have been made in pursuit of safe, reliable climate change-resilient water. This should be an issue that brings people together because it addresses the state’s need for water in a responsible and practical manner.
The Huntington Beach project is a win-win for all involved and we should all hope to see its benefits come to fruition. This is a legacy issue that will allow future generations to look back and know we made the right decision. Climate change is real, and while we can hope for the best, we must prepare for the worst.
Boxer served California in the U.S. Senate from 1993-2017.