In the News

State appeals court backs Marin desalination environmental analysis

By Mark Prado
Marin Independent Journal, 5/22/13

A state appeals court has given its blessing to an environmental study of the Marin Municipal Water District's proposed desalination project, although the district has — at least for now — shelved its desalination plans.

A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal in San Francisco reversed an August 2011 ruling by Marin Superior Court Judge Lynn Duryee, who concluded the water district failed to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act when it approved an environmental impact report for the desalination project.

Duryee had ruled the environmental impact report didn't properly describe the environmental setting near the site of the project near the Marin Rod and Gun Club in East San Rafael, and that it hadn't fully assessed the project's impact on marine life.

The water district argued that environmental assessments had been done and that a more comprehensive study would be conducted — as required by state and federal officials — once the project moved forward.

The appeals court agreed: "Having considered this record, we conclude that the EIR's description of the environmental setting was more than adequate," it wrote in its decision issued Tuesday.

The panel also supported the water district's environmental report on visual impacts from water tanks, water quality, seismic issues, pile driving and other issues connected to the proposed desalination project.

"We believe that Judge Duryee's ruling was well thought out, I'm surprised it was overturned," said Frank Egger of Fairfax, president of the North Coast Rivers Alliance, which joined several other parties in the lawsuit challenging the desalination project. "We will have to look at whether we will now appeal."

The desalination plant would take San Rafael Bay water and subject it to various forms of treatment to produce drinkable water through reverse osmosis technology. Officials who have supported the project said it would serve as a "drought proof" source of water for the county.

While the ruling is a victory for the water district, plans for the controversial desalination plant are dormant.

In 2010 the water district's Board of Directors decided to halt further work on the $115 million project because water demand had declined. That trend has continued, and officials point to weather conditions, the economy and water conservation as the reasons. The project remains on hold.

"Currently, MMWD has no plans to pursue desalination," said Krishna Kumar, general manager of the water district, in a written statement. "However, if the district ever needs to pursue desalination because of drought or water supply issues, the district can rely on this EIR along with any additional review needed."

In November 2010, district voters approved a ballot measure that requires a vote of residents to construct a desalination plant.

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