Port Aransas Conservancy is fighting to block the Port of Corpus Christi desalination plant

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Corpus Christi is looking for a new source of water, but some believe they are looking in the wrong place.

Corpus Christi Port Authority (POCCA) has applied for two desalination plant permits, including one on Harbor Island.

Reverse osmosis desalination would convert seawater into drinking water or water that could be used for industrial purposes. The result of this process is also wastewater, a mixture of brine and chemicals.

TCEQ industrial wastewater application

While seawater intake would be offshore, the permit states that the proposed site for the sewage discharge would be the Corpus Christi Canal between Harbor Island and Roberts Point Park.

“The Texas water budget is extremely strained with the growth of Texas,” said James King. “We’re relying on surface water up here with the growth of this area and the industrial growth of this area.” It needs to be addressed. We want the water in these rivers to get into the bays to help the estuaries. If they start drawing more water from these rivers, we will kill our bay systems. So we have to come up with creative ideas like ‘desalination’. “

King leads the group, Port Aransas Conservancy. They are fighting the plans of the harbor on Harbor Island.

In February, the Texas State Office of Administrative Hearings recommended that the facility be denied water quality approval.

“We feel we have an excellent administrative record to put together in the disputed case,” said King. “The facts are the facts.” You can’t get around this. It’s the wrong place. “

A study by the University of Texas at the Austin Marine Science Institute of the proposed facility was published in March.

Various methods were used in the study, including the use of technical reports that conduct public health approval and regulation, peer-reviewed literature, and the approval submitted by the POCCA.

According to the study, there are several endangered and threatened animal species that live in habitats around the proposed project. According to the study, five of these would be sensibly affected.

These five include the green sea turtle, Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, plover, whooping crane, and red heron

“We are extra careful when it comes to these threatened and endangered organisms because we are concerned about the impact of population size,” said Kristin Nielsen, author of the UTMSI study. “But when it comes to one organism, there are so few.” that the loss of one of the birds could represent a significant part of the population. Then you need to be much more conservative with your risk estimates. “

Due to the location and the low water flow in the bay, this could damage the entire marine ecosystem, according to the study. It is also recommended to reject the facility due to the high uncertainty of the risks related to the permit and the uncertainty regarding the possible ecotoxicological damage.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) approval lists broad categories of chemicals that need to be added to the process.

“You are already under a lot of stress,” said Nielsen, assistant professor at UTMSI. And when those other stressors like high temperatures, too little oxygen in the water, and high salinity are actually present, it can actually lead you to find that the threshold of action where you would normally see toxicity is at a strong lower concentration than originally expected because the organism is already so stressed. “

Nielsen said other potential risks for chemical ingestion by marine life over time could include health effects of direct toxicity in food, economic effects on the fishing industry and general well-being of a community.

King is against any industrialization on Harbor Island.

“So we advocated, if you want to take the … inlet offshore, why not do the outlet offshore?” Asked King. “And so I think that’s probably the solution.”

Although he is against the industrialization of the island, he is all for the development that coincides with the tourist economy of Port Aransas. He said with the center of town directly across from the canal, it does not include facilities like those proposed. He said it was a popular fishing spot, park, and meeting place.

“So we promoted the idea of ​​looking for alternative uses. Things like restaurants and shops and things that would fit in the marina and things like that would fit in with what we do, what the economy is here in Port Aransas, ”King said.

King said the Corpus Christi port should give the city of Port Aransas the right to build on the island. If this is not possible, the POCCA should communicate with the city and residents about what they want and develop plans that they can support.

“They will be built and designed according to Port Aransas city guidelines or ordinances,” he said. “Lighting ordinances, noise ordinances, zoning. All the things any other contractor would do here to get permission to build commercial facilities there.”

If a desalination plant is approved, the UT study suggests an in-depth environmental study for construction and operation.

“If you build it here, you have to use technology that will protect the really delicate flow of larvae and fish that move from the gulf to the bays,” King said. “This is a critical point right here. Scientists call it an ecological hot spot. And such a wrong place to place this brine.”

The Corpus Christi port responded to this study with an explanation.

“The Corpus Christi port was neither consulted by UTMSI for this investigation nor invited to participate in the study. We were certainly surprised by the University of Texas, a state agency, which was considering another state agency’s project without consulting or working with the sponsoring agency. Furthermore, we did not fully examine the study to determine its methods and assumptions. Once we have an academic review of the research to confirm its merits, we can better determine whether changes to the seawater desalination configuration are needed, ”said a Corpus Christi port spokesman.

On May 19th, the TCEQ commissioners will decide on the approval. You can support the SOAH recommendation. You can take action against it and approve the approval. Or they can refer it back and send the approval back to POCCA for the change.

According to the Texas Water Development Board, Texas does not yet have any seawater desalination plants. On the canal, residents of Ingleside are similarly battling with the Port Authority of Corpus Christi and the city of Corpus Christi. Another desalination plant was proposed around the La Quinta Canal. Permits have been submitted for a desalination plant in the inner harbor.
Desal Seawater by Ryan Garza on Scribd

In the US, there are functioning seawater desalination plants in California and Florida, to name a few. Nielsen said the difference is location.

“The main difference is that the locations where these facilities drain are similar to open water,” she said. “It’s not a closed bay scenario. And these places also have high rates of water exchange and mixing with the open ocean. So what you essentially have is it is spreading faster. It has less opportunity to linger and only leads to the accumulation of defilements and things like that. “

You can listen to the May 19 meeting and dial toll-free at 415-655-0052 and access 809-814-013. You can watch a live stream here on Kristv.com.