In a move that could send proponents of a desalination plant in Cambria back to the drawing board, the California Coastal Commission formally rejected the Army Corps of Engineers’ testing site near the mouth of the Santa Rosa Creek.
Though the long-proposed Cambria Community Services District desalination plant would be located elsewhere, testing of the soil and water at the mouth of the creek was crucial in determining if subsurface intake wells there could pull enough saltwater to feed the facility.
In making its decision, the Coastal Commission unanimously ruled at a Dec. 9 consistency determination hearing that the Army Corps’ testing at the site wasn’t consistent with the state’s rules for the coastal habitat.
Consistency hearings are held when a federal agency’s plans conflict with state law. In this case, the commission found that the proposed geophysical testing conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers wasn’t “consistent to the maximum extent practicable” with provisions of the California Coastal Management Program.
The community of Cambria, with a population of just more than 6,000, has long been divided over whether building a desalination plant is the most efficient remedy for its water shortage problem.
Proponents claim a desalination facility would provide a reliable water source unconstrained by drought conditions. Critics argue that desalination is the most expensive water money can buy and should only be given the go-ahead after exhausting all other alternatives for supplemental water.
Though it’s unlikely the Army Corps will ignore the commission’s ruling, no announcement had been made by the federal agency or the Cambria CSD as of press time.