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Marin Blocked From Tapping Bay for Drinking Water

Tentative ruling rejects MMWD desalination project.

A Marin County Superior Court judge ruled on Monday, Aug. 15, that Marin Municipal Water District's controversial desalination project didn't meet legal environmental review standards and that the $100 million plan to remove the salt from bay water before delivering it to customers could not proceed. That ruling was finalized this morning.

The full ruling from Judge Lynn Duryee can be read here.

"We're pleased with the court's ruling and look forward to implementing it," said Stephen Volker, an attorney representing the North Coast Rivers Alliance and other parties in the lawsuit against MMWD.

Former Fairfax Mayor Frank Egger is President of the North Coast Rivers Alliance, which is joined by current Fairfax Mayor Larry Bragman and San Anselmo Mayor Ford Greene in the lawsuit against MMWD.

The group brought the lawsuit against MMWD in September 2009, alleging that MMWD's environmental impact report on the proposed desalination project was insufficient and that the desalination plant would induce excessive population growth in Marin.

Judge Duryee agreed, stating in her ruling, "The Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) was not prepared in compliance with [California Environmental Quality Act] in several respects." Duryee specifically cited concerns about the environmental impact on fish and entrapment of organisms in the desalination intake system. 

The desalination plan approved by the MMWD Board would intake five million gallons of water per day from the Bay through an intake system off the coast near the Marin Rod and Gun Club in San Rafael. Reverse osmosis would then be used to remove the salt and solids and to filter the water. The leftover brine would be released back into the Bay and the drinkable water would become available to MMWD customers.

That plan is currently on hold, as the district grapples with declining demand and evaluates its current water use.

"Do we need desalination right at the moment? No," said MMWD General Manager Paul Helliker. "That could change."

If the MMWD Board decides to move ahead with the project, then the district could either choose to appeal the ruling to the California Court of Appeals or could address the aspects of the environmental review deemed insufficient.

The decision whether or not to appeal would be up to the MMWD Board of Directors, said Helliker. MMWD has 60 days following the formal decision to appeal. The basis for an appeal, Helliker also said, would be that the environmental review meets state law and that the judge chose to abuse her discretion.

"We certainly made a strong case," he said. "She chose not to agree with us."

Judge Duryee also called out the district for turning to an expensive method, like desalination, when "water conservation costs nothing."

According to the Marin Independent Journal, Helliker said he was confident that the environmental review met all state standards even before the decision ruling otherwise was finalized today:

MMWD General Manager Paul Helliker was in the process of reviewing the ruling, but said he was confident the EIR meets state requirements.

"We will be prepared to provide evidence to show that we are meeting the requirements in the law," he said, adding that despite Duryee's assertions, water conservation costs the district several million dollars that pays for education and rebates, among other aspects.

, requiring a public vote before the construction of a desalination plant., which would have required a public vote before consideration or analysis of a desalination plant.

Editor note: This article incorrectly labeled the desalination measure that passed in November.

Thomas August 17, 2011 at 10:30 AM
What really is the inner story with the constant drum beating for MMWD management pushing desalination in Marin year after year?

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