In the News

Desal EIR Delayed Again

by Jacob Pierce

Santa (Santa Cruz Weekly), 7/2/12

The environmental impact report for the Santa Cruz desal plant, originally due September 2011, has been delayed a second time. Now city staff has given up on estimating specific months and instead started ballparking seasons.

“Now we’re saying fall of 2012,” desal program coordinator Heidi Luckenbach says. “But it’s complicated, so we’re hoping to meet that.”

Luckenbach says turnover in the water department staff and time spent on other planning projects contributed to the delays.

Staffers are largely looking at three considerations in the draft EIR for the $115 million project. First of all, they are trying to determine the best location and design for the seawater intake valves.

They’re also looking at the impacts of disposing post-desal brine—which will be mixed with treated sewage water and pumped to sea—and at energy consumption.

Soquel Creek Water District, which will use the plant over 90 percent of the time, and the Santa Cruz City Council, which aims to cut the city’s carbon emissions 30 percent by 2020, both want the desal plant to be carbon neutral. (Some of the plant’s carbon impact would be offset with buying carbon credits.)

After the draft comes out, it will enter a period of public comment. After the 60- to 90-day comment period, staff will respond individually to each comment in the EIR—which Luckenbach says is already two or three inches thick, or about 500 pages—in addition to supporting documents. And it won’t be getting any shorter either.

Luckenbach is anticipating a lot of comments on the draft EIR.

So is Paul Gratz of Right to Vote on Desal. Gratz expects desal watchers from all over the country to scour the report.  “It will be a battle, and it will be a big opportunity for local and national questions and comment,” Gratz says.

Barring any setbacks, Luckenbach hopes staff, along with Soquel Creek Water District, will spend six months responding to comments and finish the report by fall 2013, well before an election on the plant’s fate, which could be held as early as June 2014.

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