Meeting to address plans for Cambria desalination

Thursday, the Cambria Community Services District board will hold a hearing on the environmental impact of scientific tests the district and the Army Corps of Engineers have proposed at the mouth of Santa Rosa Creek, tests they say are essential to determining if the site can provide enough water for a desalination plant.

The board will also hear a presentation from the district’s federal lobbyist, Greg Burns, who has been prodding lawmakers to fulfill their expressed intention to put $10.3 million toward the plant that’s now estimated to cost more than $20 million.

The district is paying Burns’ firm for six months’ representation, similar to the amounts paid previously. In prior years, the district had hired other lobbyists.

The pre-desalination geotechnical testing is a project of the district and the Army Corps of Engineers, because federal funding is involved.

The tests are designed to prove whether underground pipes can collect enough seawater from just below the mean high tide lines at Shamel Park and Santa Rosa State Beach to supply the district’s proposed desalination plant.

District Engineer Bob Gresens wrote in a staff report that the agency needs the tests to help determine if subterranean wells to collect sea water could be located in a main underground channel located in 2008.

He said various regulatory agencies have recommended such underground approaches, including the marine sanctuary’s desalination guidelines.

Some environmentalists say putting the plant’s intake and outflow there violates rules for the new Cambria State Marine Park and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, that the plant would be too expensive to install, that federal funding is far from certain and that the cost to operate the plant would be more than many Cambrians can afford.

Plant supporters say the proposed desaltination facility would supply the community with a supplemental water supply that’s not dependent on rainfall, which occasionally falls short.