California greenlights second desalination plant in a month

California officials on Thursday approved a new desalination plant along the state’s central coast, touting a facility that would boost future water supplies in the drought-stricken region, but faces grievances about environmental justice and potentially significant cost increases for consumers .

Following a contentious 12-hour hearing, the California Coastal Commission voted 8-2 to approve a permit for California American Water Co. to draw water from the coast of Marina, California, to supply a private facility in Monterey County .

“This is a really, really tough decision. There is no question about that,” said Donne Brownsey, chair of the commission, who voted in favor of the permit.

He added: “It’s like a collision of many complicated things – it’s a public water story. It’s a region with really challenging water issues. They are overlapping, competing and collaborative water districts. They are diverse communities with different and distinctive personalities.

Once built, the plant will produce 4.8 million gallons of potable water per day, or nearly 5,400 acre feet per year.

“This is a critical situation and it’s complicated,” said Kevin Tilden, president of California American Water. “Our only solution is local supplies.”

During the hearing, local officials and Marina residents urged the state commission to push back on the structure, part of which will be built on the Monterey Bay shoreline in a former sand-mining facility.

In a report endorsing the project, which has been in development for a decade, commission staff acknowledged that construction of the facility raises “extremely difficult and complex coastal resource issues.”

These include the potential degradation of environmentally sensitive habitat areas and wetlands, as well as threats to groundwater used for drinking water in Marina.

The commission also acknowledged that the project raises questions about environmental justice, given Marina’s “long history of having a disproportionate share of industrial facilities,” including a regional landfill, a regional composting plant, a regional sewage plant, a municipal airport, the former sand mining facility and the Fort Ord Superfund site.

But despite those concerns, California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot, who is a non-voting member of the commission, praised the desalination plant as “a well-designed project” that fits into the state’s ocean plan.

“You’ve all shown that not all desalin is created equal,” Crowfoot said at the hearing, pointing to a recent series of committee decisions in which he rejected a Huntington Beach desalination plant while approving a smaller facility in Dana Point (Green threadNovember 14th).

He continued: “It depends on the design of the project, its needs and the given conditions. Here we have a situation where water agencies are pursuing essentially every type of water. They have incredible efficiency and retention. They have an amazing fee structure. They are expanding water recycling. They’re working to recharge the groundwater reservoirs, and desal is sort of a last resort here. And I would say necessary.

But California Deputy State Comptroller Kristina Kunkel, also a non-voting member of the Coastal Commission, urged a rejection of the project, pointing to broad opposition.

“Desal doesn’t need to be that controversial, and the fact that this project is, points to a problem here,” Kunkel said, noting that a similarly sized facility approved at Dana Point has established a “baseline” for future desalination projects.

That project, the Doheny Ocean Desalination Project, has garnered support for its sustainable design, including efforts to curb impacts on marine life by using intake wells that are buried beneath the ocean floor.

Although the Cal-Am project uses similar technology and will harness renewable energy to power the facility, it has drawn criticism for its costs, which could bump rates up to $50 a month.

While discussing the draft, Cal-Am officials noted that the draft included a proposal to limit raises to low-income customers to $10 a month for at least five years.

Opponents of the desalination plan have urged state officials to consider alternatives, including allowing a water recycling plan to be implemented before proceeding with construction of the desalination plant.

“The Cal-Am project does not represent a thoughtful regional approach led by public agencies,” said Mary Adams, chair of the Monterey County Board of Trustees. “A publicly owned regional project could reduce the significant costs that the Cal-Am project would impose on its taxpayers. Filling a wider need and spreading costs more broadly would be a win-win for everyone.”

Despite the commission’s endorsement, however, the construction of the desalination plant remains far from a certainty. It will likely take several more years for site development to begin.

“There are many hurdles that Cal-Am still has to overcome to get any type of project approval,” said Kate Huckelbridge, deputy director of the California Coastal Commission.

Other agencies looking into parts of the Cal-Am project include the California Public Utilities Commission and the State Water Board’s office of administrative hearings, whose review is related to a lawsuit filed by the city of Marina in state water rights court. water related to development.

“What we do know is that there is huge uncertainty about the project’s need, cost and feasibility and ultimately threatens the public welfare if the project is unnecessary, ill-placed and unfeasible,” said Commissioner Linda Escalante, who voted against the structure.

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