On Wednesday, Governor Gavin Newsom removed a director of the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board after months of criticisms and questions over a proposed desalination plant in Huntington Beach.
Director William von Blasingame had repeatedly challenged the Governor over the proposed Poseidon Water-owned plant. He had brought up environmental and taxpayer concerns at Board meetings several times, and even challenged Poseidon Water itself.
Concerns over water resources stemming from Los Angeles area water issues last decade led to many proposals in Southern California on how to stretch resources for the future. Several years ago, Poseidon Water proposed a desalination plant, where salt would be removed from seawater to make it drinkable, in Huntington Beach in Orange County. While there were many initial supporters because of benefits like a large increase in water, more jobs, and helping fight climate change, community support began to dwindle after more and more regional issues around the plant popped up.
An unusual mix of environmentalists, community activists, and tax advocates joined together in opposition to the plant in the late 2010’s. Environmentalists have raised concerns over environmental damage to the area and nearby ecosystems, with many groups saying that much marine life would be killed similar to what happened at other desalination plants around the world.
Local activists, led by working class Hispanic neighborhood leaders from near where the proposed plant is to be built, have noted that the plant threatens destruction to their neighborhoods.
The high cost of desalinated water threatens to drastically raise their monthly bills at a time when money is already being stretched thin.
Taxpayer groups have made the same claim, estimating that the rate hike would be between $3 and $6 dollars per month. While seemingly not very high for many, those living on a budget in the district would likely feel a pinch, with small businesses that use a lot of water daily looking at drastically raised costs.
“I thought COVID-19 was a doomsday scenario for me,” said Orange County car wash manager Jose Jimenez in an interview with the Globe. “Having water being raised that much because of a stupid plant could end me. For a lot of us, this is a bigger threat than COVID. At least with COVID it will eventually end.
“We’re not the only ones either. Water is so important for many small businesses. This is only going to hurt businesses here.”
Gov. Newsom has been under pressure to replace von Blasingame
Director von Blasingame had repeatedly brought up these points in meetings, delaying the project and costing Poseidon Water over $1 million in lobbying the state over desalination issues. After his election in 2018, Governor Newsom became an ardent supporter of the project and was soon also tiring of von Blasingame’s constant objections.
Under pressure from Poseidon Water, Newsom declined to renew von Blasingame’s appointment and chose Tustin City Councilwoman Leticia Clark for the position. Clark comes in without having ever expressed an opinion on the plant, but has shown to be sympathetic to water crises’ in the region before.
“On paper, this is someone whose term was up, and they were simply replaced,” said Orange County environmental lawyer Harvey Clark. “But that isn’t the case. Von Blasingame had been a thorn in Poseidon Water’s side for years because he was asking the questions and bringing up the points that they were really hoping wouldn’t come up. Especially about the environment and community impact. And he was the only one on the board really pushing that.
“But now, with him gone, the gigantic amount of people against the plant here won’t be heard. This is why it is such a big deal. The Governor literally just shut out the voice of concern. They want drinkable water, which is all fine, but they’re now deciding it without hearing of any of the negative impact. That’s dangerous.”
The Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board is due to vote to approve the Poseidon Water desalination plant in Huntington Beach later this year. If approved, it is expected to face numerous legal challenges.