By Royal Calkins
Judge Lydia Villarreal has ordered Cal Am Water to stop pre-construction activities related to its Marina desalination plant until after the state Coastal Commission can consider the project on Nov. 19.
Her decision in Monterey County Superior Court on Thursday is a victory, possibly temporary, for Marina Coast Water District in its attempt to stop the project on grounds that include Cal Am’s lack of rights to pump water within the district’s territory.
Cal Am had argued that a delay could prevent it from abiding by state orders to reduce its Carmel River pumping enough to avoid a future stricter order from the state. Villarreal noted that water consumption on the Peninsula had already dropped enough to satisfy the state.
“The Court finds a brief stay is appropriate in light of the current uncertainty around whether there is even a source of water for the desalination plant,” she wrote.
The plant is designed to treat a mixture of sea water and fresh groundwater to create drinking water for the Peninsula.
The Marina Coast district sued earlier this year, arguing that Monterey County had approved the venture without considering new groundwater impact information and the apparent ability of the Pure Water Monterey recycling project to help satisfy the region’s water demand.
Public Water Now, the citizens group behind the process that could lead to a public takeover of Cal Am, has contended that the desalination plant would cost Peninsula water users more than $1 billion in unnecessary costs over the next 30 years.
Catherine Steadman, Cal Am’s spokeswoman, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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