State Water Board to hold public workshop on the impacts of desalination facilities

The State Water Resources Control Board will be holding a public workshop on Wednesday, August 22nd, to examine impacts of desalination facilities on the ocean environment as part of its process to develop an amendment to the Water Quality Control Plan for Ocean Waters of California (Ocean Plan) and the Water Quality Control Plan for Enclosed Bays and Estuaries of California.

With 17 desalination plants proposed along the California coast (see map here), amending the Ocean Plan to address issues with desalination facilities has been identified as a ‘very high priority’ for the State Water Board. The planned Ocean Plan amendment will address salinity, impacts to marine life from intakes, and brine discharge and disposal.  It is anticipated to be completed by the end of 2013.

Currently, the State Water Board regulates discharges from the nine permitted desalination facilities by issuing National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits that contain provisions to protect aquatic life, but these permits do not address the specific impacts of desalination facilities.

To initiate the desalination process, large amounts of sea water must be drawn into the facility, potentially impacting marine life from the intakes.  During the desalination process, salts and minerals are removed from the salt water to produce fresh water, creating a hyper-saline brine that then must be discharged to the ocean. This brine is denser than the receiving water and can settle accumulate on the ocean bottom with the potential to adversely affect marine organisms that are exposed to it.

During the meeting, the results of three studies initiated by State Water Board staff will be presented:

  1. Researchers at the Marine Pollution Studies Laboratory at Granite Canyon will present the results of a study of the tolerance of test species to various concentrations of hyper-saline brine.
  2. A panel of experts convened by the Moss Landing Marine Laboratory will present a report of their findings and recommendations on minimizing and mitigating impacts from the intakes to power plants and desalination facilities.
  3. The Southern California Coastal Water Research Project’s expert panel will present their findings and recommendations for brine discharge and disposal.

During the meeting, no formal action will be taken by State Water Board members, although Board members and the staff may ask clarifying questions.  The public will have an opportunity to ask questions or make comments.

The meeting will be held on August 22, 2012, at 9:00 am at the Joe Serna Jr./EPA Headquarters Building, Coastal Hearing Room, 1001 “I” Street, 2nd floor, in Sacramento.

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