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Aquarium of the Pacific wants to tap seawater to refill fish tanks

July 31, 2012 |  1:46 pm

Aquarium of the Pacific
The Aquarium of the Pacific may finally get a direct line to the ocean.

For years the Long Beach attraction has filled its complex of fish tanks and marine life habitats with salt water delivered by tanker truck or barge at a cost of up to $500,000 a year.

Now, the aquarium and the city of Long Beach want to draw water directly from the sea, sucking in 50,000 gallons a day with a pump mounted under a fishing pier at the outlet of the Los Angeles River.

The California Coastal Commission is recommending approval of the aquarium’s new seawater intake system, with the panel scheduled to vote on the plan at its meeting next week in Santa Cruz.

Aquarium officials say the pipeline will save money and reduce its carbon footprint by eliminating 1,100 diesel truck trips each year.

A fine wire mesh and a low-velocity pump would keep the intake system from sucking in or trapping fish and other marine life. But the apparatus would most certainly kill larvae — drawing in an estimated 61,000 fish larvae and 29,000 shellfish larvae per year, according to a Coastal Commission report.

The aquarium’s new system would pipe in a small fraction of the amount of water used by a coastal power plant or a desalination plant and would only minimally harm marine life, aquarium officials said. The proposal was reviewed by state Dept. of Fish and Game, which had no objections, the Coastal Commission report notes.

For nearly a decade the facility has sought to save money by tapping nearby waters, said Barbara Long, vice president of the Aquarium of the Pacific.

“Some of our visitors have the false perception that the water near the ports is not good water,” Long said. “But the water is of the quality that we can use.”

Seawater is treated before being circulated through aquarium exhibits, then discharged into a sewer system.

The move would put the Aquarium of the Pacific, which opened in 1998, in line with other prominent marine life attractions in California that draw water directly from the ocean.

Monterey Bay Aquarium pumps 2.5 million gallons a day from the ocean, cycles it through its exhibits and returns it to the sea. SeaWorld San Diego fills its 7-million-gallon killer whale complex and other large pools with saltwater drawn from Mission Bay.

If approved, the Aquarium of the Pacific expects to have its new intake system in place by the end of the year.


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Photo: The Aquarium of the Pacific's proposed seawater pipeline. Credit: California Coastal Commission.