IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

To Increase its Water Supply, Antioch, Calif., Turns to Desalination System

The City Council unanimously approved a $100,000 contract with a consulting firm that will explore the feasibility of treating brackish water pumped from the San Joaquin River.

(TNS) -- Saddled with mandatory water conservation measures and no relief from the drought in sight, city officials here now are considering increasing Antioch's water supply with a desalination system. The City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a $100,000 contract with a consulting firm that, over the next five or so months, will explore the feasibility of treating brackish water pumped from the San Joaquin River.

"Water is the new oil these days," said Lou Carella of Corollo Engineers, which specializes in the design of water treatment facilities.

As the volume of fresh mountain water flowing into the Delta has decreased, the concentration of salt in the river has risen.

The city historically has relied on Contra Costa Water District to supplement its supply because, even though Antioch enjoys the long-held right to pump what it needs from the San Joaquin River without a state permit, the salinity of that water changes constantly, Public Works Director Ron Bernal said following the meeting.

The city's existing treatment plants aren't equipped to handle the current high chloride levels, so Antioch became totally reliant on CCWD's costlier stores of raw water earlier this year.

Regaining a measure of independence by adopting desalination technology would require building a third treatment plant -- a project that would run into the tens of millions -- which the city would use whenever it needed to remove salts from the Delta to boost its supply of potable water, Bernal said.

The approach would afford the city the chance to pump from the river year-round, he added.

A desalination facility wouldn't completely eliminate Antioch's dependence on CCWD, however.

Residents' demand for water in hot weather has been known to far exceed 16 million gallons per day, the most the city's pump on the river can handle, Bernal said.

He noted that this summer is shaping up to be very different, however: Whereas the state requires the city to curtail its water use by 28 percent, Antioch actually has seen consumption drop by 36 percent since June 1 as compared with the same period in 2013, Bernal said.

Antioch's tentative step toward the use of desalination isn't unique: CCWD has been studying the idea along with four other water distributors since 2003.

The group shifted its focus this spring only after learning that the next step in the process -- doing an environmental impact report and a water rights analysis -- came with an estimated $6 million price tag.

The group, now eight members strong, hasn't tabled the idea of desalination, but it's started considering other ways of ensuring that the region has a reliable supply of high-quality water.

As for Antioch, the city began exploring desalination as an option a little over a year ago by scouting potential sites for a plant and analyzing potential effects on the environment.

If council members ultimately decide the project is a go, the engineering firm would help the city apply for a low-interest loan and grant from the state.

©2015 the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.