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Port of Corpus Christi says it's stuck in the middle of a state, federal desal dispute

The EPA said late last week that the permit the TCEQ gave the port violates the Clean Water Act.

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — The Environmental Protection Agency could take potential legal action against the Port of Corpus Christi over its proposed desalination plant. 

Last week, the EPA issued a decision it said overrules approval the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality had given to the Port of Corpus Christi for a desalination plant. 

The reason? The EPA said that the port's proposed plant would violate federal rules about discharging pollutants into protected waters, violating the Clean Water Act.


In a statement sent to 3NEWS, TCEQ said the following:

TCEQ is reviewing the letter received by EPA and the agency's options moving forward. TCEQ will not provide further comment due to potential litigation and a pending motion for rehearing regarding this permit.

"Right now it's a dispute between the TCEQ and EPA, and we're kind of caught in the middle," said port board chair Charles Zahn.

Both the port and the city have been locked in a race to secure permits to build desalination plants in order to ensure the city and its customers have a reliable, weatherproof water source. The port and city also remain at odds over where to build the plant. 

Zahn said the port will continue to push toward its goal for both residents and industry. 

"It's the first one of its type in Texas, and I've offered that to the mayor," he said. "I've offered that to the city council. And I said 'All you got to do is ask.' And they haven't asked yet."

He also said the port is willing to help the city get its own permits, but Corpus Christi Mayor Paulette Guajardo said that the city can't rely on an outside group such as the port to build a plant that's so crucial to the city's infrastructure. 

"The port does not have a customer," she said. "They do not have funding. They do not own water lines. So moving forward, we are going to keep the city's permits on track."

The city has been seeking for alternative sources of fresh water for some time. City of Corpus Christi Resource Manager Esteban Ramos is part of a panel discussion at this week's Water for Texas state conference in Austin.

"The City of Corpus Christi serves nearly 500,000 people in the Coastal Bend," he said. "Providing a supply that is droughtproof -- that can lead us into the future. That can be a backbone to our water supply." 

Corpus Christi currently gets water from Lake Corpus Christi, Choke Canyon, the Lower Colorado River Authority, and Lake Texana, which is brought in by the Mary Rhodes Pipeline

Corpus Christi City Councilmember At-Large Mike Pusley said it's important for the city to continue seeking its own permits. 

"We have to acquire an additional water resource or we're going to be in serious trouble in this community in a very short period of time," he said. 

There is no word yet on when an appeal to the EPA's decision might be filed.

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