The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) is a proud member of OCWISE and penned this powerful article in the OC Register today about the importance of desalination now and in the future. On July 15, LULAC authored the following Op-Ed in the Orange County Register.
Huntington Beach desalination plant a matter of environmental justice
California is in the midst of its worst drought in history. Across Southern California, this year’s El Nino provided no relief. Climate scientists believe that drought conditions may simply be the “new normal” for our region. How can our local communities meet their own needs and responsibilities without simply taking limited water supplies from each other?
Semi-arid and drought-prone Southern California can no longer rely on overdrawn ground water sources for more than a small fraction of local needs. Meanwhile, the region’s two main sources of imported water have become increasingly less reliable. Both the Sierra snowpack and the Colorado River are near all-time lows. We must all learn to conserve and reuse water and harvest stormwater where feasible. Yet we can’t conserve our way out of an absolute absence of water.
As the 28 million people living in coastal Southern California strive to become more self-sufficient, they have a unique opportunity. Seawater desalination can provide a readily available, local, proven and drought-proof source of new water. Given the magnitude of our region’s crisis, we believe coastal communities should consider this option, and be encouraged to develop it – both for their own benefit and the good of the broader region.
LULAC, the oldest Hispanic civil rights organization in the U.S., supports the proposed Huntington Beach desalination facility. For the nearly 1 million Latinos living in O.C., increasing the water supply is not only a matter of environmental justice, but of civil rights as well. We are mindful that Latino voices, and other voices of color, have been conspicuously absent from the dialog over the need to build this plant and similar plants elsewhere on the California coast. Nothing is more important to our community than water – whether for agriculture, business or clean safe urban drinking water. Without it we cannot work or provide for our families. In the midst of this punishing drought the need to develop any and all forms of new local water supplies has become critical.
For too long the interests of Latino communities on local water issues have been overlooked. While wealthy coastal communities have debated their options, inland and heavily Latino communities like Porterville have endured a total lack of water. It is rare that government has the opportunity to ensure a vital service like water with technology like desalination. While we clearly support all forms of reuse, recycling and stormwater harvesting, we cannot afford to gamble on unproven solutions. Desalination alone offers a source of new water that is absolutely drought-proof. The Orange County Water District has projected a serious, developing shortfall of water due to population growth, diminishing imported supplies and climate change. The time for action is now.
Desalination is a sustainable solution in many parts of the world. Here in the U.S. there are thousands of small-scale desalination plants. Last year, the San Diego County Water Authority brought on-line the largest desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere in the city of Carlsbad that the state recently designated as a “drought resilient water supply.”
The Huntington Beach facility, similar in design to Carlsbad, has been through 15 years of permitting and OCWD has entered into contract negotiations to purchase all of the water the plant would produce because, in part, the county’s groundwater basin is 80 percent depleted and in need of a new, sustainable supply.
The Latino community knows that water is life; there is no life without it. Beyond the current drought, Southern California faces new state rules limiting the use of groundwater, critical shortfalls in imported water supplies and projections of more climate change to come. The time for debate and delay is over. For the good of our entire region, LULAC believes that we must move to develop this new, dependable and local source of “wet” water now. Standing in the way is the California Coastal Commission. The issue of whether to permit this project has been studied extensively. Simply put, it’s time for a vote – and, LULAC believes, a vote to allow this important project to move forward.
Dave Rodriguez is California state director and president of the League of United Latin American Citizens