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Antioch gets $10M grant to help design, build desalination plant

04/10/2019 1:35 PM

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City of Antioch water treatment plant superintendent Tim Coley sits next to a large pipe that transfers water from a river pump station in Antioch, Calif., on Thursday. The pump draws water from the San Joaquin River which is then sent to a treatment plant and processed into drinking water. Antioch is one of only three cities/water agencies to receive $10,000,000 in State of California Prop 1 Grant Funding for the construction of a water desalination facility. The desalination facility will help Antioch treat water when salt levels rise in the river. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

By JUDITH PRIEVE | | Bay Area News Group
PUBLISHED: March 28, 2019 at 10:49 am | UPDATED: March 29, 2019 at 9:35 pm 

A correction to an earlier version of this article has been appended to the end of the article.

Antioch’s plan to build a long-awaited brackish desalination plant got a major boost this week when the City Council officially accepted a $10 million state grant to pay toward the plant’s design and construction.

The city’s grant was one of three statewide to be awarded in March 2018 from the Department of Water Resources for desalination projects under Proposition 1, but environmental reviews and other work still need to be done to free up the money. Proposition 1, approved in 2014, set aside $725 million in grants and loans for water recycling, treatment and desalination projects. “This is really an exciting item for the city of Antioch,” City Manager Ron Bernal, a longtime proponent of the desalination project, said about the grant agreement reached with the state. “It’s been a long process to get to this point.”

“I am excited that we are getting further and further down the road, and you can actually see it coming,” added Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock, who has been anticipating the project since it was proposed five years ago.

The city plans to build a plant that will treat and convert 6 million gallons a day of brackish water that it pumps from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to drinking water for the city’s residents and businesses. In the Bay Area, the Alameda County Water District has been desalinating water since 2003 in Newark from the Niles Cone Groundwater Basin. The salinity of Antioch’s water has steadily increased because of the drought a few years ago, diversion for other uses and climate change. And if the proposed California WaterFix tunnels are built to divert water to Southern California, the water could get even saltier, experts say.

The project is slated to cost $64.6 million, and although construction and additional designs are still unfunded, the city is applying for $55 million in low-interest financing from the Department of Water Resources’ Drinking Water State Revolving Fund. It already has obtained a $1 million planning loan from that fund, and city officials say they expect the project to be fully funded by June 2020.

Founded in 1850, Antioch has pre-1914 rights to pump water from the Delta. But it cannot do so in the summer and fall, when the river flow is diminished and saltwater intrudes. That’s when it buys water from the Contra Costa Water District’s canal, which it treats itself before delivering.

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Filter tanks and basins can be seen from the roof top of Building B at the water treatment plant in Antioch, Calif., on Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2015. City officials are hoping to increase Antioch’s water supply with a desalination system that would be added to this plant. (Susan Tripp Pollard/Bay Area News Group)

Pumps would take brackish river water from the city’s Fulton Shipyard intake and pipe it to the desalination plant at 410 Putnam St. off A Street, south of Highway 4, where it would be purified through reverse osmosis. The remaining brine would then go the Delta Diablo Wastewater Treatment Plant, where it would be discharged to the river through their outfall pipe. In touting the project, Bernal said it will help provide the city’s residents and businesses with a sustainable, affordable water supply. Public Works Director John Blank called the agreement a “huge milestone” that will cover the initial costs.

“You are not going to design everything and then build it,” he said, noting that pipelines would be built in stages. “We are progressively designing and building it.” When the project is far enough in the design stage, the city will work to obtain permits from Army Corp of Engineers, Blank added. “Once we get to that point where we can then get our permits, we will hand over our design to a design-build team, which will then finish the design to 100 percent and be responsible for the full design and construction.” Mayor Sean Wright cautioned that there’s still a long road ahead. “We have gotten this — which is a big milestone — but getting the permits is still another uphill climb for us,” he said. “So as council, the more unified we are in saying this is something we definitely want, the better. There are entities out there that see this as competition, so we need to stay on top of this and lobby for it. “We want to see this happen. It’s really important for our community.”

Correction: March 29, 2019: Because of an editor's error, an earlier version incorrectly said that brine in the desalination process would go to Delta Diablo Wastewater Treatment Plant before being released as tap water. In fact, Delta Diablo would flush that brine out to the river. The Antioch Water Treatment Plant would treat the remaining water for the tap.