CA OKs Seawater Desalination Rules

Tuesday, May 12, 2015 @ 05:05 PM gHale

Water woes continue in drought-stricken regions in the U.S. and California is doing something about it.

California adopted the first statewide rules for the permitting of seawater desalination projects that should grow as drought-stricken communities increasingly turn to the ocean to supplement their drinking supplies.

The action, which sets uniform standards for minimizing harm to marine life, ended up applauded by developers of the state’s two largest desalination projects as bringing much-needed certainty and clarity to the regulatory approval process.

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“It reaffirms that the Pacific Ocean is part of the drinking water resources for the state of California,” said Poseidon Water executive Scott Maloni.

The rule came to life after a voice vote in Sacramento by the State Water Resources Control Board.

The measure leaves the permitting process in the hands of the state’s regional water boards while establishing a single framework for them to follow in evaluating applications to build seawater treatment plants, expand existing ones and renew old permits.

Regional decisions could now go through appeal to the state board for review if opponents of a project felt a permit ended up wrongly approved.

Before Wednesday’s action, developers and regulators of desalination plants had no specific guidance for meeting federal and state clean water standards, complicating review of the projects, state water board spokesman George Kostyrko said.

Desalination has emerged as a promising technology in the face of a record dry spell now gripping California for a fourth straight year, depleting its reservoirs and aquifers and raising the costs of importing water from elsewhere.

Critics cited ecological drawbacks, such as harm to marine life from intake pipes that suck water into the treatment systems and the concentrated brine discharge from the plants.

The newly approved plan sets specific brine salinity limits and rules for diffusing the discharge as it pumps back into to the ocean.

It also requires seawater to end up drawn into the plants through pipes sunk into beach wells or buried beneath the sea floor, where possible. Officials said subsurface intakes are more environmentally friendly.

The Western Hemisphere’s biggest desalination plant, a $1 billion project under construction since 2012 in the coastal city of Carlsbad, California, is due to open in November.

It will deliver up to 50 million gallons (190 million liters) of water a day to San Diego County, enough to supply roughly 112,000 households, or about 10 percent of San Diego County’s drinking water needs, according to Poseidon.

Approval is also pending to begin construction of a second plant of similar size in Huntington Beach, south of Los Angeles, next year.

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