The Cambrian

Drilling deeper on desal test evaluation

D irectors of Cambria’s services district soon will try — again — to determine if it’s safe and prudent to do scientific tests to prove that enough seawater seeps beneath a local beach to supply a desalination plant.

At a meeting due to start at 12:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 21, Cambria Community Services District staff will explain in more detail the environmental impacts of their plan, and directors will decide whether to go ahead or require more details.

The sophisticated $733,000 geotechnical and hydrogeologic studies to be performed near the mouth of Santa Rosa Creek are designed to bolster previous reports. Those reports say that drilling up to 11 test holes and then installing monitoring wells in as many as three of those holes won’t harm the habitat, endan-

gered species and other life in the area, or unduly interfere with the public’s ability to get to or recreate at the shoreline.

Some of the reports are from the Army Corps of Engineers, which is to pay for the tests.

The Corps is partnering with the district on desalination because Congress has approved spending $10.3 million in federal money on a plant that could ultimately cost more than $20 million.

That means the project plan not only has to pass the stringent requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), but also has to satisfy terms of a set of similar federal regulations, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The Corps has determined that, under NEPA, the geotechnical tests wouldn’t impact the environment.

According to Greg Sanders, president of the district’s board of directors, “Under the law … The Corps goes down the NEPA track and we have to go down the CEQA track. I suppose it is possible that each agency could come to a dif ferent conclusion about environmental impacts, but I don’t think that will happen in this case.”

However, “we do have to consider evidence that is presented … and that’s what we are doing now. From what I know of the issues presented, none of them present an impediment to going forward.”

On Jan 4, at least eight community members presented statistic-laden or passionate statements about the tests. District directors decided they wanted more environmental backup before making their decision.

The public’s concerns included the risk of stirring up old mercury deposits, risk to species that live and feed near the creek mouth and in the creek itself, and the need for more specifics about the tests before the plan is approved.

And if the board decides more verification is needed on environmental issues before they’re comfortable approving the testing? Sanders said the Corps’ timetable of starting the geotechnical investigation sometime in February “is aggressive. If it slips a month, so be it. The important thing at this juncture is that we follow the CEQA process required by law.”