TCEQ delays vote on Corpus Christi desalination plant
The Port of Corpus Christi’s plans for a seawater desalination plant hit a snag after the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality delayed a vote on issuing a water discharge permit. The port needs the permit to move forward with the project.
The TCEQ board on Sept. 7 voted unanimously to delay the vote until Sept. 22. The three commission members made their decision after reviewing comments from the Port of Corpus Christi’s legal representative and Port Aransas Conservancy, an environmental group that opposes the project in its present form.
Port Aransas Conservancy and other similar groups have expressed concerns that discharge from the plant could impact habitat and marine life. PAC, however, has indicated a willingness to support the project if the discharge area were located offshore. Existing plans call for the plant to be located on Harbor Island.
The project, if built, would process up to 50 million gallons of water per day. According to the Port of Corpus Christi, the facility is needed to alleviate the strain on water supplies caused by long droughts.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency could also get involved in the permitting process. Originally, the EPA did not receive notice of the plant proposal, as TCEQ classified the desalination plant a minor facility, exempting it from federal oversight.
In a September 2021 letter to TCEQ, the EPA declared that classification incorrect. In addition, the letter stated that TCEQ would be required to notify EPA of any permit applications for desalination plants in the future. The federal agency followed up with a letter in March 2022, requesting more information so it could decide if the Corpus Christi plant meets provisions of the Clean Water Act. Thus far, the federal agency has not indicated any further actions concerning the application.
Seawater desalination plants work by filtering dissolved solids to make the water safe for drinking. Discharge from the process, a highly concentrated brine, is returned to the ocean, although researchers are seeking ways to reuse the brine.
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