Test for desalting plant divisive

Several agencies involved in planning for a Cambrian desalinization plant have come to loggerheads about how and where to conduct a survey of potential seaside locales for the plant’s underground intake and outfall pipes. Cambria’s service district and the Army Corps of Engineers have presented a new plan to survey the mouth of Santa Rosa Creek while the Coastal Commission opposes such a move.

A previous planned survey of an area near the mouth of Santa Rosa Creek had been approved by the California Coastal Commission but ran afoul of regulations controlling a State Park natural preserve.

The geotechnical testing project is a joint venture of the Cambria Community Services District and Army Corps of Engineers, as would be the long planned-for desalting plant.

The testing would include some area surveys and about a dozen test locations below mean high tide. It would include samples of wet sand and soil collected during low-tide periods. Tests also would plot different subterranean materials by tracking sounds transmitted into beach sand from a hammer-struck steel plate. Such tests are designed to show the geology of the area and whether there’s enough sand from which a desalting plant could draw seawater.

The desalination project would provide the community with an alternate supply of water, a supply that's not dependent on rainfall. The community is subject to occasional droughts.

Commission staffer Tom Luster said in his official comments that, according to the current plan, the tests wouldn’t be extensive enough to give useful results. That’s why he’s recommending that the tests not go forward as presently proposed.

The district responded that Luster apparently misunderstands the process. The tests will indeed yield valuable insight into how suitable for desalination intake and outflow the geology is beneath the creek mouth.

Under the new proposal, the testing process would have as little an impact on the beach as possible because State Parks officials had previously barred the heavy equipment needed for the original tests.

However, Luster noted the tide line is within the Cambria State Marine Park and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, which come to the table with their own sets of rules and regulations.

This is the latest testing plan proposed by the Corps and the district, which originally wanted the project to be near the mouth of San Simeon Creek, but shifted it southward in 2007 when the commission turned down that plan, requiring the agencies to test other sites.