Marin water board votes for desalination

August 20, 2009 12:38:38 AM PDT
There was a bitter debate in Marin County Wednesday night over its water plans. On the table was the issue of whether to move forward with a costly desalination plant as a way to secure water for the future. The Marin Municipal Water District met late into the night and heard plenty of public comment on the topic.

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The Marin Municipal Water District's meeting was a long one, but they were expected to follow the advice of its staff and vote yes on desalination.

All those against a desalination plant stood in solidarity. For these people, turning water from San Francisco bay into fresh drinking water would waste too much energy and end up being a big waste of money.

"That's about 54 percent more per gallon than I'm paying right now. That's a major increase," said Richard Smith, a Marin County resident.

If approved, the $100 million desalination plant would be built in San Rafael at this vacant lot near the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.

It would produce five to 15 million gallons of desalinated water a day. The Marin Municipal Water District is one of a handful of agencies throughout the state considering the idea.

"We have a pretty close margin of supply and demand and if we have a drought, especially a drought of two or more years, we would really have a hard time supplying water. In fact, we would run out of water," said Libby Pischell with the Marin Municipal Water District.

And there are plenty of supporters who have been just as vocal as those against desalination.

"The price of a reliable supply of water is of minimal cost in comparison to the cost of a prolonged drought," said Harold Brown with the Marin County Board of Supervisors.

"I do think it's something we have to do. It's for future and present generations," said Phil Cohen, a Marin County resident.

But many argue the answer to Marin's water woes is not desalination, but conservation.

"What needs to be done in order to make the water supply more reliable is to fix leaks, is to stop irrigating cement, is to replace inefficient toilets and inefficient washing machines," said Adam Scow, from Food and Water Watch.

The board voted 4-to-0 in favor of desalination. Construction is not expected to begin until 2014.

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