Did you know clean water is a right in the state of California? It is, along with such rights as freedom of speech, religion and assembly.
It’s been a decade since the Legislature passed Assembly Bill 685. It declared “the established policy of the state that every human being has the right to safe, clean, affordable, and accessible water adequate for human consumption, cooking, and sanitary purposes.”
Senate Bill 200 established the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund in the State Treasury to “to help water systems provide an adequate and affordable supply of safe drinking water in both the near and long terms.” This is crucial because the right to clean, safe water only can be met by spending money on new facilities and patching up old ones.
The fund now is up and running under the control of the California Water Boards. It’s called the Safe and Affordable Funding for Equity and Resilience Program, with the apt acronym SAFER. Equity is needed to make sure the poorest areas also enjoy the same high-quality water as the wealthier areas. Resilience means making sure the water facilities can withstand earthquakes, floods, aging and other hazards.
The State Water Board will be meeting online on October 19 to consider its draft plan for fiscal year 2021-22, which began on July 1. It will take up its 2021 Drinking Water Needs Assessment from April this year.
The document’s Executive Summary maintains, “SB 200 established a set of tools, funding sources and regulatory authorities” to implement SAFER. So that will be a key part of the coming meeting to fulfill the promise of SB 200 and the rights guaranteed in AB 685.
The Assessment document also includes solutions for the Board to consider. Among these are “storage tanks, new wells, well replacement, upgraded electrical, added backup power, replacement of distribution system, additional meters and land acquisition.”
As part of guaranteeing clean and safe water for all, the Board will take up “Significant Deficiencies.” These include defects in the design, operation, maintenance, treatment, storage or distribution “that U.S. EPA determines to be causing or have the potential for causing the introduction of contamination into the water delivered to consumers.”
The Board also is advancing innovative new solutions under two main funding categories:
Of the Golden State’s 10 desal plants, the largest is Poseidon Water’s Carlsbad Desalination Plant. For half a decade it has been pumping out 10 percent of San Diego County’s water, enough for 400,000 homes.
Soon Poseidon will finish constructing a sister plant in Huntington Beach. It will produce roughly the same amount of H20 as the Carlsbad facility.
The Huntington Beach facility has been invited by the U.S. EPA to apply for up to $644 million in funding under the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act. From 2019 to today, the funding has received bipartisan support and is endorsed by President Biden’s EPA.
Desalination has the great advantage that it isn’t affected by droughts. There’s always plenty of water right next door in the Pacific Ocean. Desal really does “make the desert bloom” – and quench the thirst of Californians.
Water is a right guaranteed by law. And desalination now is a crucial part of making sure that right is enjoyed by all.
Drought is drying up California again. Along with deadly wildfires, that means water shortages and rationing.
The latest: On August 3, the California State Water Board voted 5-0 to end water diversions to 5,700 farmers in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta watershed.” Failure to comply will result in penalties as high as $1,000 per day,” reported California Globe.
No one knows how long the drought will last, but the last one parched the state for five years, 2012-16. It was the worst in 500 years.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, in the last week of July, about half the state rated D4, meaning “Exceptional Drought,” the worst category. It included most of the Bay Area and part of Los Angeles County. Most of the rest of the state rated D3, “Extreme Drought.”
Sacramento knew this day was coming. That’s why the State Water Board adopted seawater desalination regulations in 2015, clearing the way for the proven technology to play a more prominent role in serving the state’s water needs.
In the long run, desalination also would help relieve the state’s North-South Water Wars. As long ago as the 19th Century, Mark Twain supposedly quipped, “In California, whiskey is for drinking. Water is for fighting.”
In 2019, Gov. Gavin Newsom killed the Twin Tunnels project of his predecessor, Gov. Jerry Brown, reducing it to a single tunnel. The latest plan would cost $15.9 billion to carry the water from Northern California under the Delta down to Southern California. But the battle is far from over.
Desalination puts desal plants near water users, reducing the cost and length of conveyances. It’s part of a statewide water diversification strategy, “one tool in the tool box.”
Although California saw slight population decreases the past two years, that’s just a blip. U.S. Census figures show the population increased 2.4 million from 2010 to 2020. That’s a 6.5 percent boost in just a decade.
And many Inland cites have kept growing as people flee more expensive coastal areas. CalMatters reported, “Since January 2020, the populations of Merced, Manteca and Tracy in the north San Joaquin Valley and Banning and San Jacinto in Riverside County all grew by more than 2 percent.”
A crucial thing desalination plants provide is certainty. The Pacific Ocean is the largest reservoir in the world and always full. The plants operate whether or not there’s a drought. Desal is the only 100 percent climate-resistant water supply.
Due to vast technological innovations in recent year, desalination costs have come down sharply. The last drought cost the state $5 billion just in lost farm revenues. According to the Motley Fool investment site, “That same $5 billion could have built five new desalination plants to help prevent the next drought” – the one we’re now in.
Fortunately, the desalination of seawater now is advancing in the Golden State. According to a chart on the website of the California Water Boards, there are 12 “existing seawater desalination facilities.” Only two generate substantial water for people and industry. The Santa Barbara Desalination Plant provides 3 million gallons of water a day, covering 30 percent of the city’s needs.
The other is the much larger Carlsbad Desalination Plant, a public-private partnership between Poseidon Water and the San Diego County Water Authority. It has provided San Diego County with 80 billion gallons of drinking water in five short years. That’s enough for 400,000 homes.
California Water Boards also lists six “Proposed Seawater Desalination Facilities.” One is in Huntington Beach, where Poseidon nearly is finished permitting a sister plant to the one in Carlsbad. It’s expected to start construction in 2022, if approved by the California Coastal Commission later this year.
The facility will produce 50 million gallons of water per day of drought-proof drinking water, serving another 400,000 homes. That will be crucial for thirsty Southern Californians, especially if the drought continues.
In April, the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board issued Poseidon Water a permit finding the proposed Huntington Beach facility complied with the state’s latest environmental regulations. Up next, the California Coastal Commission will rule whether to allow the construction of the plant – a decision that will decide the fate of seawater desalination technology across the state.
Among other things, the CCC will consider whether it agrees with the project’s mitigation requirements imposed by the Regional Water Board permit, which includes obligating Poseidon to maintain, enhance and restore the 1,500-acre Bolsa Chica Wetlands, five miles up the coast from the project site,” reported the Orange County Register. The paper noted the desal project has been supported by the Bolsa Chica Conservancy, an environmentalist group.
In sum, the desal plants are a win-win-win for California. People, industry and farms get water. Peace comes to the state Water Wars. And the environment is preserved.
That’s something to toast with a cool glass of desalinated water.
Vice President Kamala Harris was right on point last year when she said that clean water is a fundamental human right. President Biden has put those words into action by signing an executive order establishing a White House council on environmental justice.
Every Californian has a right to clean, reliable affordable drinking water. As the California Chapter of the oldest Hispanic civil rights organization in the United States, the California League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) shares this administration’s belief that investing in modern water infrastructure is a starting point to ensure the state meets this obligation.
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD | firstname.lastname@example.org |
Opponents of a proposed desalination facility along the Huntington Beach coastline are aghast that Gov. Gavin Newsom has taken steps to help end a years-long regulatory logjam. Although an environmentalist, the governor clearly recognizes the importance of developing new water sources to meet California’s needs.
Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board Releases Revised Permit for Huntington Beach Desalination Project
Poseidon Proposes Enhanced Coastal Habitat Restoration Plan and Accelerated Bolsa Chica Wetlands Financial Obligation
HUNTINGTON BEACH, CA (February 12, 2021) - The Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board (“Regional Board”) today released a revised Tentative Order permitting the operation of the proposed Huntington Beach Desalination Project (“Project”). The Regional Board is tentatively planning to consider adoption of the permit this coming April.
The Regional Board held three public hearings in July and August 2020 to consider the staff- recommended amendment and renewal of the Project’s permit, which was first adopted in 2006. The Regional Board requested at the time that Poseidon and its staff work together to amend plans to mitigate the Project’s unavoidable marine life effects.
“Desalination must be included in any discussion of future water sources for Orange County."
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