In the News


Let the desalination studies continue

Santa Cruz Sentinel, 6/20/14

As water-supply issues, and drought, continue to plague the state of California, discussions about desalination remain center stage both here and up and down the coast.

Earlier this week, backers of the DeepWater Desal proposal in Moss Landing presented a series of environmental impact studies, including one that suggested that an open ocean intake method is environmentally friendly.

The study suggested there would be little environmental damage if the intake of ocean water and outflow of brine were deep enough not to affect fish populations. Thanks to the geology of a deep underwater canyon off Moss Landing, the reasoning goes, the project could be built there.

Any such proposed facility has a long way to go before it would be approved. The idea of open ocean intake has been opposed by environmental groups and even the state Water Resources Control Board, which has made known its preference for an intake below the ocean's floor.

That subsurface strategy is the one taken by Cal Am water and its proposed north Marina desal project.

The different approaches to collecting seawater are part of a larger discussion up and down the state in light of dwindling water supplies. Some are warning that further droughts are inevitable and that it's time for the state to join other parts of the world that rely on desalination.

An article last month in the Sentinel examined the various proposals around California, asking the question if California — like Israel, Saudi Arabia and other arid coastal regions of the world — will finally turn to the ocean to quench its thirst? Or, the article continued, will the studies finally prove that drinking Pacific seawater is too pricey, too environmentally harmful and too impractical for the Golden State?

We view desalination as a kind of insurance policy. People buy fire insurance for their house even if they think it'll never burn down. Chances are far greater that there will be more droughts in California, and suppliers of water would be irresponsible not to look at new sources like desal.

Maybe the best solution is a locally based project like the one in north Marina proposed for Monterey Peninsula and a revival of the seemingly moribund Santa Cruz desal plant that brought on a flood of neighborhood and environmentalist criticism. Maybe the best answer is a regional facility like the DeepWater proposal in Moss Landing. Maybe both.

It's worth noting that the Monterey Peninsula Water Management Agency continues to look at the DeepWater project as a fallback if the north Marina facility, proposed by the privately owned California American Water, doesn't get built. And in Santa Cruz County, the Soquel Creek Water District, which was invested in a partnership with the Santa Cruz desal project, has joined the Monterey water district in helping fund a study relating to the DeepWater proposal.

Soquel Creek, which serves 35,000 people in Mid-County, is struggling to find alternative water sources as it continues to rely on an overdrafted groundwater basin.

So, it's important for both the proposals and the environmental studies to continue. No solution will be perfect, and it's clear that higher costs are in the future.

But avoiding the subject is not an option, and we remained convinced that desalination will be in California's future.

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