In the News

AS WE SEE IT:  GET MOVING ON DESAL

Santa Cruz Sentinel, 04/17/2009

On Wednesday the water stopped flowing at a pilot desalination plant at Long Marine Lab.

The yearlong project on Santa Cruz's Westside, which cost $4 million, was able to transform up to 72,000 gallons of seawater a day into water fresh enough to drink.

The next step is to take apart the temporary plant. And the next phase after that will be analyzing how well it worked, and if it is financially and environmentally feasible to build a full-scale, permanent desal plant that would be capable of turning 2.5 million gallons of saltwater a day into freshwater.

While Santa Cruz water chief Bill Kocher has called the pilot project a success, a permanent desal plant could be far off. Environmental studies plus an expected battle over whether a full-scale plant would lead to more growth could clog up the approval process.

Kocher said he expects it will take three years to examine the impacts. The next stage would be raising money, presumably from customers with some help from the state, pending better budget fortunes. Construction could take another three years.

Add it all up, and we're looking at six years, minimum, before a fully operating desalination plant would come online.

We agree with Kocher that the last thing a water-short community needs is a political fight over growth in connection with a desal plant. As it is, the projected plant would only kick in during drought years. At full capacity, the plant would only provide up to 20 percent of water needs, clearly not enough to induce growth.

Foes have discussed other options: recycled gray water for irrigation, which has proven to be a costly, and increased conservation. County residents, however, already use 45 percent less water than the statewide average.

With no additional water-storage projects in sight, with saltwater already intruding the local water table, plus the relatively dry conditions of the past few years, shoring up the local water supply is an urgent priority.

Desalination is the only reliable alternative on the horizon. Residents in the Santa Cruz and Soquel water districts need to get behind this proposed plant and urge leaders of the water districts to move as quickly as possible to getting the plant built.

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