In the News

Marin desalination plant clears hurdle

By Bob Egelko
San Francisco Chronicle, 5/22/13

Plans for a desalination plant to deliver cleansed drinking water from San Rafael Bay to homes in Marin County have taken a step forward with a state appeals court ruling rejecting a challenge by environmental advocates.

The San Rafael plant would provide at least 5 million gallons of water per day to residents of the Marin Municipal Water District. The district describes it as an environmentally benign solution to future water shortages, but opponents, led by the North Coast Rivers Alliance, contend it would encourage unneeded development and pollute the bay with wastes from the plant.

Superior Court Judge Lynn Duryee rejected the district's environmental impact report in 2011, saying officials had failed to fully analyze the potential effects on water and fish, greenhouse gas emissions or alternatives such as increased water conservation.

But Duryee was overruled Tuesday by the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco, which said the water district had addressed each of those issues and reached reasonable conclusions that the project would have minimal impact.

"Differences of opinion do not mean the (environmental report) was invalid," the court said in a section of the ruling upholding the district's findings that the plant would not discharge harmful amounts of polluted water into the bay.

The court also said there was substantial evidence for the district's conclusion that increased conservation would not meet residents' water needs in dry years, even if additional supplies were piped in from the Russian River. The 3-0 ruling was written by Justice Timothy Reardon.

The project needs additional regulatory approval and an endorsement from district residents in a future election. But "a significant hurdle has been cleared," said Whitman Manley, a lawyer for the district.

The environmental group's lawyer, Stephan Volker, said the ruling did not relieve opponents' concerns about "the enormous environmental impacts of this misguided project," including its energy use and harm to endangered fish. He said his clients would appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Bob Egelko is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: begelko@sfchronicle.com

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