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California borders the Pacific Ocean, the largest body of water in the world, so desalination is a no-brainer for the Golden State. But as Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee shows, government is not exactly eager to slake the parched state’s thirst.
The San Diego County Water Authority is building a desalination plant near Carlsbad. The company in charge of the project, Poseidon Resources, is planning another at Huntington Beach in Orange County. As Walters notes, “Last week, a scientific panel gave a positive nod to the state Coastal Commission for Poseidon’s plan to draw in seawater, which has been a sticking point in its permit application. There was no particular reason why it should have been, other than that some folks in the environmental community reflexively oppose any project to increase California’s water supply, even in the midst of a historic drought.”
San Diego County has an elected government and so does the city of Carlsbad. But the desalination plant must bend the knee to the California Coastal Commission (CCC) an unelected body that overrides the elected governments of coastal counties and cities on land use and property rights issues. The CCC started as a temporary body during the first reign of Jerry Brown, and in typical style the state made it permanent. Headed and staffed by regulatory zealots, the CCC combines Stalinist-style regulation with Mafia-style corruption. In the 1990s, Commissioner Mark Nathanson served prison time for shaking down celebrities for bribes.
A scientific panel may have given the CCC the nod for seawater induction, but that is no guarantee the CCC will approve further plans. It does not need to face the voters, and it now has power to levy fines directly. Worse, the CCC serves the interest of those who, as Walters says, oppose “any” project to increase the state’s water supply.
Governor Jerry Brown wants to drill two massive tunnels under the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta at an estimated cost of $25 billion. If the governor supports the southern California desalination plants, Walters explains, “he would be undercutting the tunnel project, which he clearly sees as completing the State Water Project his father began and adding to his own political legacy.” San Diego County’s desalinated water, meanwhile, will cost $2,000 an acre-foot, but as Walters observes, that is scarcely a half-cent per gallon. Therefore, “It makes a lot of sense – perhaps more sense than spending billions of dollars on a couple of pipes that won’t increase supply.”