In the News

Desalination officials hear concerns of residents


Santa Cruz Sentinel, 12/09/11

LIVE OAK - Officials involved in a proposed desalination plant addressed concerns about higher energy use and carbon emissions Thursday evening, the fifth in a series of community meetings related to a controversial project with a more than $100 million price tag.

Todd Reynolds, a senior engineer with Kennedy/Jenks Consultants, estimated the plant would consume about 6,800 megawatt hours of energy each year, about the same amount of energy used by a midsized hospital.

The plant would also produce between 900 and 1,970 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent each year, and those emissions must be mitigated, since a law passed in 2006 requires California to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

A group representing experts from a variety of fields - including Ecology Action - identified 11 sites where carbon emissions could be reduced by installing energy-efficient fixtures and replacing old infrastructure with renewable energy products and other carbon-reduction projects.

Asked whether those projects - many of which lie outside the boundaries of the proposed facility - would take away from carbon-reducing efforts elsewhere, Susie O'Hara, an assistant engineer for Santa Cruz, conceded that there are only so many projects that can be undertaken within the facility boundaries.

"There are limited areas where you can install renewable energy," she added, but "the energy study identified projects outside the boundaries where we can invest in larger-scale renewable energy products."

Aptos resident Randa Solick, a member of Desal Alternatives, is opposed to the project, saying it is both too expensive and energy intensive.

"They're depending on offsets to mitigate the carbon produced, but our community needs to do that anyway," she said. Solick added that she was surprised to learn that energy use in Santa Cruz alone would rise from 1.4 kilowatt hours to 15 kilowatt hours for every 1,000 gallons of water produced.

But members of the desalination task force say none of the alternatives investigated in previous decades are viable since they would either not produce the amount of water needed or would not be unreliable.

The City of Santa Cruz and Soquel Creek Water District have so far spent $9.7 million on costs related to the plant, according to Melanie Mow Schumacher, the project's public outreach coordinator.

If built, it would be capable of transforming 2.5 million gallons of sea water each day into drinking water, which officials say is needed because of droughts, population growth, aging infrastructure and overpumping of groundwater.

But critics say the city and district should focus more on water exchanges, a water-neutral growth policy for future development and greater conservation.

Last month, even though task force members say no decision has been made on whether to construct the plant, the agencies agreed to split almost $6000,000 to hire two consultants to conduct work related to the permitting process. That came over the objections of critics, led by Desal Alternatives founder Rick Longinotti, who said he believe no money should be spent on the permitting process until the project has been approved.

The next community meeting is scheduled for the spring, when the draft environmental review document is expected to be released.

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