EPA Terminates Permit Review Waiver for Harbor Island Desal Plant in Texas

September 22, 2021

CONTACT: John Shepperd

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has terminated the permit review waiver for desalination facilities, including the desalination plant proposed by the Port of Corpus Christi for Harbor Island within the city limits of Port Aransas, Texas.

The Port of Corpus Christi is seeking a permit from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to construct a desalination plant which would discharge approximately 94 million gallons of wastewater from the facility directly into the Aransas Pass inlet, immediately adjacent to the Redfish Bay State Scientific Area, one of the most environmentally sensitive spots along the Texas coast.

In a letter dated Sept. 20, 2021, EPA Region 6 Water Division Director Charles Maguire informed TCEQ that the federal agency is terminating the waiver that had been in place. This means EPA will now be part of the review process for the wastewater permit application, which is a welcome development for those concerned about the negative impacts of the controversial project.

The desalination project, as proposed by the Port of Corpus Christi, is opposed by the Texas Coastal Coalition, the Port Aransas Conservancy and a host of other environmental and natural resource-based organizations and individuals. The major concern is that the Port of Corpus Christi seeks to discharge wastewater into one of the most sensitive ecological systems on the Texas coast. In addition to a multitude of state and federal designations, these waters are part of the National Estuary Program, which is an EPA program designed to protect and restore water quality and ecological integrity of estuaries of national significance. Further, the EPA’s interests extend into wetland restoration and resiliency as well as beach protection which are other coastal features that would be impacted by the project.

Most of the concerns about the project’s impact would be mollified if the Port would move the point of discharge several miles offshore. 

The Texas Coastal Coalition lauds this move by the EPA and is encouraged that additional oversight will shine some light on the many issues and problems associated with the requested permit and provide for a thorough review of the permit application.