Fish regulators criticize Calif. water plan

SANTA CRUZ — State and federal agencies negotiating with Santa Cruz over fish-habitat protection say the city has not thoroughly studied alternatives to a proposed seawater desalination facility designed to boost water supply.

Letters from the National Marine Fisheries Service and California Department of Fish and Wildlife critiquing an environmental evaluation of the now-stalled desal project say the city should explore the cumulative potential of its own infrastructure improvements and regional coordination.

The agencies — whose requests for improved river and stream flows have been cited by the city as a primary reason for pursuing desal — say a host of additional alternatives were rejected without adequate investigation.

The regulators have not taken a position on desal, but are among a host of agencies that would have some permitting authority over the plant.

“Unfortunately, the alternatives analysis does not appear to thoroughly evaluate alternatives recommended by the NMFS and CDFW through more than 10 years of technical assistance provided to the city” in the development of a fish conservation plan, the federal agency said in its letter.

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