Water is one of the most politically thorny topics in California in the best of times — but with the state coming off its driest three-year stretch on record and heading into a fourth straight year of drought, tensions are mounting. Two Thursday examples:
- After a 13-hour debate that saw hundreds of people speak and multiple bouts of tears, state regulators approved a highly controversial desalination plant in the Monterey County city of Marina — even after citing its high costs, environmental risks and “the most significant environmental justice issues” the California Coastal Commission has faced in recent years, CalMatters’ Rachel Becker reports. Much of the debate hinged on the fairness of locating a for-profit company’s facility in Marina, which does not need the water and is home to designated disadvantaged neighborhoods. The expensive supply will flow to other communities, including the whiter, wealthy enclaves of Carmel-by-the-Sea, Pacific Grove and Pebble Beach. The highly anticipated vote comes as California weighs how desalination — the process of turning seawater into drinking water — will fit into its increasingly dry future. The commission in May rejected a contentious desalination plant in Huntington Beach, but in October approved a smaller, less expensive facility in Dana Point.
- Federal regulators signed off on what’s set to be the largest dam demolition project in U.S. history — the removal of four aging dams along the Klamath River spanning the California-Oregon border, which will be paid for in part by California taxpayers. The news marks a significant win for Native American tribes and environmental justice advocates, who say it will help restore revered salmon runs and natural habitats. “The Klamath salmon are coming home,” Joseph James, chairperson of the Yurok tribe, said in a statement. “The people have earned this victory and with it, we carry on our sacred duty to the fish that have sustained our people since the beginning of time.” Nevertheless, some local residents oppose the demolition, which they say could hurt property values and reduce power supply. “The citizens of California are losers in today’s hearing so the green movement could claim a symbolic win,” Republican U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa, who represents the affected region, told the Sacramento Bee.