State authorities decided today (Thursday, Sept. 22) to grant a permit to the Port of Corpus Christi for desalination plant wastewater to be discharged in Port Aransas waters.
The vote by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality commissioners in Austin was unanimous.
But Rick Lowerre, an attorney for opponents of the discharge plan said the port won’t be able to use the permit – at least not right now – because the port hasn’t adequately addressed concerns that the EPA has about the issue.
A port spokesman couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
In addition, the approval was conditional upon various factors, including some related to how the wastewater would mix with the seawater in the Corpus Christi Ship Channel.
One condition reportedly means that wastewater would have to be diffuse enough so that a salinity increase of no more than 2 parts per 1,000 over ambient salinity would take place at 100 meters from the discharge point. Questions have been raised about whether the port can meet that standard and what methods a monitoring program would use for determining that.
Under the port’s plan, a plant would be built on Harbor Island, and the discharge would be located just off the island, across the channel from Roberts Point Park.
Some, including folks in a citizens’ group called Port Aransas Conservancy (PAC), have argued that sea life likely would be harmed if the discharge is put there.
Port representatives have said in the past that there wouldn’t be an unreasonable threat to marine life.
Those formally protesting the port’s plans also have included individual Port Aransas residents and the Texas Audubon Society.
Opponents of the port’s plans have pushed for the port to pipe the discharge miles offshore, in the Gulf of Mexico.
PAC’s president, James King, said PAC members are disappointed but will continue pushing the Port of Corpus Christi to move the discharge point offshore.
The port’s application said the plant could produce an average daily flow of up to 95,600,000 gallons of water treatment wastes into the ship channel.
Opponents of the port’s plan have cheered some of the comments made by EPA officials chiming in on the proposed permit.
In December 2021, the EPA notified the TCEQ that the proposed desalination plant should be classified as a major facility. As such, the facility would need a major permit, according to a letter from Charles Maguire, director of the Water Division at the EPA’s Region 6 office in Dallas, to Earl Lott, director of the TCEQ Office of Water in Austin.
“The EPA has determined that the POCC (Port of Corpus Christi) facility was incorrectly classified as a Minor facility under federal regulations and the Major/Minor worksheet used by the State to classify the facility,” the letter said.
When the permit in question is classified as a major one, the TCEQ is required to provide the EPA with an opportunity to review and comment on it. That’s not always the case with a minor permit.
In a letter dated Sept. 2 this year, the EPA’s Earthea Nance wrote that if the TCEQ issues a permit to the port without responding to an “interim objection” that the EPA made or providing the EPA an opportunity to review the proposed permit, the EPA’s position would be that it wouldn’t be a validly issued permit.
The letter from Nance, an EPA regional administrator, was written to Niermann.
It wasn’t immediately clear on Thursday, Sept. 22, whether the EPA yet had been given an opportunity to review the proposed permit.
(Watch for more in the Sept. 29 edition of the South Jetty.)