Desalination plant in Orange County will help ensure clean drinking water

Oct 16, 2020 | Cal Matters

In summary

Desalination is a proven technology with more than 20,000 facilities worldwide, providing millions with safe drinking water every day.

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By Gloria Alvarado, Special to CalMatters

Gloria Alvarado is executive director of the Orange County Labor Federation and a resident of Santa Ana, Gloria@oclabor.org.

Although these days no one seems to agree on anything, there is one thing we can all agree on: every Californian should have a right to clean drinking water. 

But even with that, California is facing an impending water shortage. With widespread fires, a COVID-19 provoked economic recession bringing widespread unemployment and a public health emergency, it would be easy, but not prudent, to forget that we face a water crisis around the next corner. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom, who we can all agree has a lot on his plate right now, rightfully recognized the risk. His 2020 Water Resilience Portfolio includes building seawater desalination plants to solve the water shortage. 

And yet, we see outsized efforts to encourage California’s lawmakers to put their heads in the sand and forget all about the state’s desperate need for new, reliable and affordable means to provide water for California’s families. And here’s the thing: if water increasingly becomes scarce, like with any resource, it will become increasingly expensive, which means it will no longer be a right, but yet another socio-economic division in the state of California. 

Right now, families have to work increasingly longer hours to afford their rent and to keep the lights on. Working families make choices every week about what they can afford and what they can’t. Scarcity will make it so they can afford even less. And that is why we need to work together right now to prevent the next big water crisis in California.    

It’s like the current power crisis we are facing. We used to take it for granted that the lights would go on when we flipped the switch. Rolling blackouts have put an end to that. In California, we have shuttered power plants up and down the coast. Now, we don’t have enough power to keep the lights on. 

The same people that oppose desalination plants forced the premature closure of the power plants. Now we have rolling blackouts due to not having enough power on the grid. If we don’t act now, we can plan to have days where we limit our water intake. 

If we are lucky enough to be able to afford it, we would need to run to the grocery store to buy water to fill our kids’ water bottles. And as anyone who ran out of toilet paper earlier this year and saw the empty shelves at the grocery store understands, you don’t want to be looking for something you really need when it has suddenly become scarce.   

Seawater desalination is a proven technology with more than 20,000 facilities in 170 countries worldwide, providing more than 300 million people with safe drinking water every day. It’s already working in San Diego County, where the state’s largest facility provides 1 billion gallons of new, high-quality drinking water every month, at a cost of less than one penny per gallon.

And this isn’t technology that Californians don’t support. Beyond the governor, the Senate President Pro Tem and the Speaker of the Assembly, the Public Policy Institute of California’s July public opinion survey showed 68% of Californians favor building seawater desalination facilities.  

Let’s work together to avoid a water crisis. Let’s work together to ensure that every working family can afford to provide their kids with clean drinking water. Let’s work together to support good projects like the Huntington Beach desalination project. We have an opportunity to get in front of this one. Let’s not waste it.

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