Public officials say desal is a bad deal Dozens sign letter to state Coastal Commission

Photo | Phil Wellman

Editor’s note:  This story has been amended to correct a couple of errors and to include letters from the Monterey County politicians and from the League of Women Voters of Monterey County.

By Royal Calkins

More than two dozen elected officials have signed a letter urging the California Coastal Commission to pull the plug on a desalination plant proposed by the California American Water Co. to serve Monterey Peninsula residents.

The letter was released during an event held by Public Water Now on the lawn in front of Monterey City Hall.

Among those signing the letter were the entire board of the Marina Coast Water District, Monterey Mayor Clyde Roberson, Seaside Mayor Ian Oglesby, Marina Mayor Bruce Delgado Del Rey Oaks Mayor Alison Kerr and Monterey County Supervisor Jane Parker. 

Most of those signing the letter were on hand early Monday for what seemed like a pre-game pep rally, with the crowd cheering for the Pure Water Monterey recycling project and essentially booing Cal Am. The Pure Water project is designed to convert wastewater into drinking water, satisfying the Peninsula’s water needs without the far more expensive desalination venture, according to officials of various agencies involved in the process. 

“A recent water supply and demand report from the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District has shown that the demand for water has dramatically declined over the past 20 years,” the letter says. “The report clearly shows that the expansion of Pure Water Monterey can meet our water supply needs for several decades. There is no need for this desal plant.”

Public Water Now, the group founded by George Riley and headed by Melodie Chrislock, estimates that the desalination plant would cost Cal Am customers $1.2 billion over the next three decades while an expanded Pure Water Monterey project would cost just $190 million. 

“Monterey Peninsula Cal Am customers already pay the highest cost in the nation for water and this desal project would double residents’ water bills.” says the letter.

The Coastal Commission is scheduled to take up the issue at its Nov. 14 meeting in Half Moon Bay. Public Water Now representatives have been lobbying the commission staff in advance of that meeting, as has Cal Am.

Among the issues of concern to the commission staff, Chrislock said, is rising sea levels, which could put some of the desalination plant’s apparatus underwater.

Coastal Commission approval is critical if the project is to continue. Other obstacles facing Cal Am include the Marina Coast Water District’s position that its pipes don’t have the capacity to accommodate the project as Cal Am intends and the position shared by numerous landowners that Cal Am doesn’t have the legal right to pump groundwater as it plans to do at the plant’s designated location on the shore in Marina.

Also signing the letter were:

  • Seaside City Council members Jason Campbell, Jon Wizard and Dave Pacheco.
  • Monterey City Council members Alan Haffa and Tyller Williamson
  • Marina City Council members Gail Morton, Lisa A. Berkley and Adam Urrutia.
  • Carmel City Council member Jeff Baron.
  • Alvin Edwards and George Riley of the Peninsula water management district board.
  • Wendy Root Askew, Debra Gramespacher and Alana Myles of the Monterey Peninsula school district board.
  • Rosalyn Green of the Monterey Peninsula College board.
  • Anthony Rocha of the Salinas Union High School District board.
  • Regina Gage of the Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital board.

Meanwhile, the League of Women Voters of Monterey County also sent a letter to the Coastal Commission last week urging commissioners to deny the permit. The letter notes that the league generally “supports desalination as a long range water planning option, but it must be pursued only after all efforts for a low impact project are exhausted.”

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Royal Calkins

About Royal Calkins

Contributing writer Royal Calkins has worked for newspapers in Santa Cruz, Monterey and Fresno. For the past couple of years, he has produced a local news and commentary blog, the Monterey Bay Partisan. He can be reached at calkinsroyal@gmail.com.

3 thoughts on “Public officials say desal is a bad deal Dozens sign letter to state Coastal Commission

  1. Letter from Monterey County Elected Leaders

    October 21, 2019

    California Coastal Commission
    Chair Dayna Bochco and Commissioners,

    As elected leaders here in Monterey County, the economic and environmental well-being of our citizens is our responsibility. California American Water’s proposed desalination project does not meet either of those priorities. We ask you to deny its application for a Coastal Development Permit.

    A feasible alternative, the Pure Water Monterey Expansion, has been developed since the CPUC decision that authorized Cal Am’s desalination project. This recycled water project is environmentally superior and far less expensive.

    A recent Water Supply and Demand report from the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District has shown that the demand for water has dramatically declined over the past twenty years. The report clearly shows that the expansion of Pure Water Monterey (PWM) can meet our water supply needs for several decades. There is no need for this desal plant.

    Our coastal environment must be protected. We cannot allow a project that would do harm. This project would draw groundwater from the overdrafted Salinas Valley Groundwater Basin and create seawater intrusion that could threaten the municipal water supply of the City of Marina, the Ord Community and CSU Monterey Bay. It would also destroy seven acres of coastal dunes and environmentally sensitive habitat in Marina.

    As a coastal community, the impact of climate change is a grave concern. This desal plant would use a massive amount of energy – 38,000 megawatt hours of PG&E power a year compared to the Pure Water Monterey Expansion which is powered by biogas energy from the adjacent landfill and would use only 12 megawatt hours a year from PG&E. This desal plant would become a large CO2 emitter on the coast at a time when we are trying to reduce emissions.

    Our local public agencies working together have solved our water supply problem with the Pure Water Monterey project and its proposed expansion. Currently, Cal Am will not sign a water purchase agreement for this additional water, preferring its profit generating desal project instead.

    The economic impact of this unnecessary project would be a hardship on the entire community. Cal Am’s desal would cost $1.2 billion over 30 years compared to $190 million for the Pure Water Monterey Expansion. Monterey Peninsula Cal Am customers already pay the highest cost in the nation for water and this desal project would double residents’ water bills. It would make water unaffordable for many and create an environmental injustice issue for our lower income communities of Marina and Seaside.

    Cal Am’s desalination project is not in the public interest. It benefits Cal Am shareholders, while creating environmental damage and unnecessary financial burden for our community. The Pure Water Monterey Expansion is an environmentally superior alternative. We ask you to deny Cal Am’s permit.

    Respectfully,

    Jane Parker, Monterey County Supervisor District 4
    Clyde Roberson, Mayor of Monterey
    Ian N. Oglesby, Mayor of Seaside
    Bruce Delgado, Mayor of Marina
    Alison Kerr, Mayor of Del Rey Oaks
    Jenny McAdams, Pacific Grove City Council
    Jon Wizard, Seaside City Council
    Jason Campbell, Seaside City Council
    David Pacheco, Seaside City Council
    Alan Haffa, Monterey City Council
    Tyller Williamson, Monterey City Council
    Gail Morton, Marina City Council, Mayor Pro Tem
    Lisa A. Berkley, Marina City Council
    Adam Urrutia, Marina City Council
    Jeff Baron, Carmel City Council
    Alvin Edwards, Monterey Peninsula Water Management District Board
    George Riley, Monterey Peninsula Water Management District Board
    Tom Moore, Marina Coast Water District Board, President
    Jan Shriner, Marina Coast Water District Board, Vice President
    Matthew Zefferman, Marina Coast Water District Board
    Peter Le, Marina Coast Water District Board
    Herbert Cortez, Marina Coast Water District Board
    Wendy Root Askew, Monterey Peninsula Unified School District, Board of Education
    Debra Gramespacher, Monterey Peninsula Unified School District, Board of Education
    Alana Myles, Monterey Peninsula Unified School District, Board of Education
    Rosalyn Green, Monterey Peninsula College, Board of Trustees
    Anthony Rocha, Salinas Union High School District, Board of Education
    Regina Gage, Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital Board, Vice President

  2. The League of Women Voters of Monterey County said this in a letter to the California Coastal Commission recommending denial of the Cal Am desal permit:

    Among many positions, the League supports maximizing conservation and reclamation for all water uses. When the first desalination plant was being considered in 2009, we led the effort to increase the use of recycled water through the Groundwater Replenishment Program (GWR) and to downsize the desalination plant. Since that time, replenishing the Seaside Aquifer with reclaimed water has been refined and is now a viable alternative to a costly and environmentally damaging desalination plant.

    The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approved the CPCN permit (Certificate of Public Conveyance and Necessity) for Cal Am’s desalination project in late 2018. Prior to the CPUC making that decision, it approved the basic Pure Water Monterey recycling project for 3500 acre feet of new supply. It also held evidentiary hearings on an expansion of that project to add another 2250 acre feet of new supply. However before the CPUC finished its review of the expansion, it proceeded to approve the basic desalination project, and asked for follow up reporting on PWM Expansion.

    Additional information is now available on PWM X, particularly on cost and environmental impact differences with desalination. Recent electromagnetic imaging data are also available.

    By comparison with PWM X, the intake wells and desalination project shows numerous disadvantages related to environmental impacts, environmental justice, cost, and size.
    • Desalination has a very large energy need, with corresponding high GHG emissions. PWN X energy need vastly less than the desal energy need.
    • Energy supply for desalination is from PGE. PWN X supply is from recovered methane gas from the local landfill.
    • Desalination will discharge brine to the Marine Sanctuary. PWN X will divert existing discharge for reclamation, and reduce total discharge into the Sanctuary.
    • Coastal dune disturbances are significant with desalination in contrast to PWN X which has none.
    • Recent demand numbers and analysis make it clear the desalination is over-sized at 6,252 afy. PWN X is consistent with projected demand needs for 30 – 40 years at 2,250 afy.
    • Cost differences are absolutely stunning. Desalination is estimated at $6000/af, while PWN X is about $2200/af.
    • The desalination project divides the larger community by taking groundwater/brackish water from a lower income community (Marina), offering no compensating benefits to it, and delivering product water to a higher income community (Peninsula).
    • The desalination project further divides the Seaside community, since it is served partly by Cal Am, and partly by Marina Coast Water District (the threatened provider to Marina and Seaside).

    Slant well technology is new and experimental. It is not in operational use for desalination intakes anywhere in the world. Slant wells are novel and untested and expensive. In theory, it may be ideal. But the reality on the Monterey Peninsula is that the proposed desalination project is excessive and unnecessary.

    LWVMC supports desalination as a long range water planning option, but it must be pursued only after all efforts for a low impact project are exhausted.

    PWM X is the most environmentally superior project available. And it is by far the most sensible and affordable supply.

    LWVMC urges the Coastal Commission to deny the Coastal Development Permit for Cal Am’s proposed slant wells and desal infrastructure in the coastal zone. LWVMC further urges CCC support for Pure Water Monterey Expansion, which is located completely outside the coastal zone.

  3. I have been in touch with “Just Water Organization”. This group is trying hard to recruit people like me to talk about the possible mishaps if Cal-Water builds the desalination plant on the shore of a Marina beach. The Marina underground water will get affected by a desal plant in terms of pollution and salt water infiltrating to the ground water that is used for irrigation. Furthermore the new housing developments will be terribly affected by a desal plant on the shores of Marina.
    I wish Cal-Am considers carefully the demands of Marina well-being and its development plans.
    Thanks.

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