Huntington Beach desal project is a ‘no-brainer’

The Carlsbad plant is a 50 million gallon a day saltwater desalination plant.
The Carlsbad plant is a 50 million gallon a day saltwater desalination plant. The Associated Press

I will never forget the extraordinary experience California voters gave me over my 40 years in elected life, from local office, to congresswoman and then 24 years in the U.S. Senate representing the entire state. And when people ask me to recount the issues that are forever sealed in my memory, one of them is the very difficult challenge of climate change and the strain we are already experiencing from drought and extreme weather in our beloved state.

I believe in science and the recent five-year drought was a clear and agonizing reminder of what scientists say lies ahead. I saw the terrible impacts and heartache that face Californians when they cannot count on a reliable water supply, and sadly I watched different groups turn on each other as that water resource diminished.

For me, it was an impossible situation. How could I pick favorites between hardworking farmers and hardworking fishermen, who were practically in hand-to-hand combat over a resource both needed? How could I choose sides between urban, suburban and rural water users?

The truth is I couldn’t and I didn’t. I decided to go a different way. First, conserve all the water we could; second, recycle all the water we could; third, recharge all the underground aquifers we could and wherever possible, utilize, with the very best desalination technology.

I wrote many bills that created grants and loans for desalination plants in order to encourage this technology. I wrote a letter in 2015 supporting the proposed Huntington Beach Desalination plant after visiting Poseidon Water’s 50 million gallon per day Carlsbad facility, which is so impressively built and operated.

I have chosen to join the broad-based effort to advocate on behalf of the Huntington Beach project because as I said when I left the Senate, I would be continuing my work on issues like climate change prevention adaptation, and environmental preservation.

There are many fine aspects of the Huntington Beach desal project that I so appreciate, including it will take pressure off environmentally exhausted resources and provide regional water supply self-reliance for Orange County; the public-private partnership protects taxpayers; the plant will be carbon neutral and state-of-the-art technology will minimize energy consumption; and the project ensures a plan for the long-term preservation of the magnificent Bolsa Chica wetlands.

I am working for responsible desalination because this technology, which has been used widely in the arid country of Israel and has allowed that nation to build a strong economy, already has proven itself in California. To me, as a proud environmentalist, it makes enormous sense. Because here’s the thing. If we don’t move in this direction, as we confront climate change, we will be facing large destructive dam projects that threaten our magnificent rivers, more water importation that will destroy the productive salmon fishery, and the real possibility of a dry and painful future for a state that is predicted to grow by another 6 million people over the next 20 years.

Science and technology, public policy and public opinion stand squarely on the side of desalination. It’s common sense and California’s regulatory agencies need to say yes to the Huntington Beach desalination project. As my kids used to tell me years ago: “It’s a no-brainer.”

Barbara Boxer, a former U.S. senator, is a consultant for Poseidon Water. She can be contacted at senbarbaraboxer@gmail.com.