Administrative Law Judges recommend that TCEQ deny permit for desalination discharge
February 8, 2021
HOUSTON, TEXAS – Administrative Law Judges (AJLs) within the State Office of Administrative Hearings have concluded that the evidentiary record does not support issuance of a discharge permit to the Port of Corpus Christi Authority (POCCA). The original recommendation by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) was to grant the discharge permit, a necessary step for the POCCA to construct a desalination plant on Harbor Island in Port Aransas. After reviewing the background information, modeling assumptions, and environmental impacts of the brine discharge, the ALJs have recommended that TCEQ deny the permit.
The location of the proposed discharge is within the Redfish Bay State Scientific Area (RBSSA). According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the RBSSA contains the northernmost extensive stands of seagrass on the Texas coast. This includes 14,000 acres of submerged seagrass beds with all five species of seagrass found in Texas. The RBSSA is a component of both the Aransas and Corpus Christi ecosystems and is home to about 50 square miles of prime fishing habitat. In addition to seagrass beds, it contains a unique and fragile environment of oyster reefs, marshes, and mangroves while providing a feeding habitat for shrimp, crabs, and gamefish, waterfowl, shorebirds and turtles.
“We are pleased to learn of the Administrative Law Judges’ recommendation,” said Shane Bonnot, CCA Texas Advocacy Director. “When you read the docket, you can clearly see the ALJs were concerned about adverse impacts on marine life, which is what we (CCA Texas) have stated from the beginning of this process – this area is too fragile and too vital to our fisheries to make any mistakes.”
“The Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies has identified other locations in Corpus Christi Bay that are more suitable for seawater desalination plants with far fewer impacts to the ecosystem,” stated Bonnot. “We understand the need for a consistent supply of freshwater for Coastal Bend industries and municipalities and that desalination will be considered moving forward. However, we will continue to advocate for it to be done in a safe manner that minimizes any negative impact to the ecosystem.”
In the ALJs proposal for decision, they concluded POCCA has failed to meet its burden of proof to show the CORMIX modeling was reliable and used accurate inputs, demonstrating the original decision by TCEQ was accurate, and that the proposed discharge will not adversely affect the marine environment, aquatic life, wildlife, recreational activities, commercial fishing, and fisheries. It goes on to state that based on inadequate information in the record, the ALJs could not recommend any changes to the draft permit that would remedy the defects.
“CCA Texas came out against this discharge permit early in the process and laid out valid concerns for the region’s marine ecosystem,” said Robby Byers, CCA Texas Executive Director. “We will continue to ensure sound stewardship of our coastal resources remains a top priority as state government, industry, and stakeholders work to meet the growing demands for freshwater in the Coastal Bend.”
Coastal Conservation Association Texas (CCA Texas) is a non-profit marine conservation organization comprised of tens of thousands of recreational anglers and coastal outdoor enthusiasts. Founded in 1977, CCA started in the great state of Texas and has grown to include state chapters along the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic Seaboard, and Pacific Coast. The stated purpose of CCA is to advise and educate the public on the conservation of marine resources. The objective of CCA is to conserve, promote and enhance the present and future availability of these coastal resources for the benefit and enjoyment of the general public.