As California heads into it's fifth drought year, water districts statewide are looking for new sources of water. Ocean desalination, a process that removes minerals from saline water, is the gaining popularity among some officials, despite major environmental impacts and cost concerns. But as the drought has worsened, and frightening reports about the depletion of the region's groundwater supply have swirled, three OC agencies are making decisions on the Poseidon Huntington Beach Desalination project, which will have lasting effects on the environment and our wallets if it goes through.
Yet what makes this project increasingly interesting is the location in which the desalination plant is said to be built. According to Orange County Coastkeeper Associate Director of Programs, Ray Hiemstra, they want to build it right next to the Huntington Beach power plant on PCH. But the issue with putting a one billion dollar desalination plant there is the fact that the sea level is rising, and in the next decade or two, our shorelines aren't going to look the same. And to make matters worse, Huntington Beach is one of the California beach cities most vulnerable to sea level rising. In other words, putting a desalination plant on PCH will put it at risk for flooding and over all general destruction.
"It's a horrible sight to put anything and a complete waste of money," Hiemstra said.
According to Hiemstra, the project will require major protective barriers such as seawalls, groins, breakwaters and other coastal armoring structures to protect it from the repercussions of the rising sea level, amounting to a slew of additional costs and impacts to our state and coast. And yesterday, as the King Tides (which are especially high tides) hit our shores, the location on PCH between Newport and Huntington where the Santa Ana river and the ocean meet— you know, right by the power plant where they want to build said desalination plant— was completely under water. If the area is already subject to flooding now, imagine how it will be when sea level rises.
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"It's only going to get worse," Hiemstra said. "This is what a regular day is going to look like the in future."
According to the Coastkeeper website, the proposed plant is said to impact marine life from Palos Verdes to Dana Point, pollute the ocean in Huntington Beach and cost six times what we are currently paying for ground water, just to produce 50 million gallons of potable water for lawns.
Although one desalination plant in California is up and running in Carlsbad, Hiemstra says that San Diego's water situation is much different than ours. "We wish [the desalination plant] hadn't opened there," he said. "But San Diego imports 90% of their water. Orange County in total only imports 50%," he said. "And in north Orange County where they want to build this plant, we only import 30%."
As baby waves and tons of water surged into the channel underneath PCH, nature itself seemed to suggest that spending a billion dollars on a project that could be severely impacted by sea level rise might not be the greatest idea. "A tsunami zone isn't a good place for a one billion dollar facility," said Hiemstra. Although we're heading into another year of drought, destroying our environment for water isn't the best solution. Says Hiemstra, it's "completely nuts."