Cambria desalination will bring environmental benefit

The US Army Corps of Engineers announced on 28 April 2009 that it will receive US$ 2.5 million in funding through the new American Recovery & Reinvestment Act to develop the Cambria desalination project north-west of San Luis Obispo in California.

The 1,600 m³/d Cambria project is described by Robert Gresens, district engineer for Cambria Community Services District (CCSD), as “an environmental mitigation”. This is because Cambria relies entirely upon two narrow and thin coastal stream groundwater aquifers for its water supply. During 1999, a contamination plume of the gasoline additive methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) was discovered, which resulted in the shutdown of its Santa Rosa wellfield.

Since late 2001, the community has been under a water shortage emergency. This has led to development of a water masterplan that calls for reverse-osmosis seawater desalination to augment the CCSD’s limited potable water supply.

Congresswoman Lois Capps secured a $3 million credit authorization for the CCSD in 2005 to cover costs incurred in the design, permitting and environmental studies for the project. At that time, she said, “The community of Cambria faces a serious risk to its water supply due to drought and MTBE contamination. This project will ensure that the 8,000 Cambria residents who depend on the CCSD will have access to pure and clean water.”

Features of the proposed plant could include a solar plant to offset its energy consumption and horizontal bored intakes beneath the ocean floor. Cost estimates are in the region of US$ 16 million.