More water? Or just more politics? Cal Am targets Pure Water Monterey’s Expansion project

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By Melodie Chrislock

The coronavirus certainly hasn’t slowed Cal Am and its desal supporters down. One might hope that it would soften their “corporate bottom line at all costs” attitude with just a bit more of the “help your neighbor, we’re all in this together” attitude. No chance.

Cal Am’s next target is the expansion of the Pure Water Monterey recycled water project, the cost-effective water supply solution so many in our community have been working to see developed. The expansion project would give us another 2,250 acre-feet of water annually.

On April 27, the Monterey One Water board will vote on certifying the supplemental environmental impact report for the expansion project. This should be a no-brainer; after all this is simply an expansion of an already successful and environmentally progressive project. But Cal Am is asking the M1W board not to certify the SEIR, in essence killing the project.

Some on the M1W board appear willing to do Cal Am’s bidding, and do it with the public’s money. This SEIR cost the public $1 million. And Cal Am has invested another $350,000 of ratepayer money in it.

So what’s going on here? Why does Cal Am want to kill this? Back in November Cal Am was shocked to learn that the California Coastal Commission was not going to rubber-stamp its proposed desal project as the state Public Utilities Commission had done. The Coastal Commission staff report recommended denial of Cal Am’s needed Coastal Development Permit for the desal. The Coastal Commission vote on this is coming up in August.

One of the reasons for the recommendation of denial was the Pure Water Monterey expansion. According to a report from the Water Management District, either the PWM expansion or the desal plant could meet long-term water demand for the Peninsula and lift the state’s cease and desist order on the Carmel River. The Coastal Commission staff saw the Pure Water Monterey expansion as the more desirable environmental alternative for many reasons.

Ever since then, Cal Am and its supporters in the hospitality and agricultural communities have been trying to kill the expansion. Cal Am hopes to convince the Coastal Commission that the PWM expansion is not a viable alternative to its desal.

But why is the ag community taking a stand on a water supply project for the Peninsula? Here’s the deal, and for Castroville it’s the deal of the century.

Cal Am’s desal would draw 100 percent of its feed water (some brackish, some fresh) from the overdrafted Salinas Valley Groundwater Basin, not the ocean. Legally Cal Am must return the percentage of fresh water taken in the desal process to the basin. Cal Am decided that the Castroville Community Services District would receive this 700-plus acre-feet of desalinated water annually for $110 an acre-foot.

But here’s the crazy part. Cal Am ratepayers on the Peninsula would have to foot the bill, paying $6,000 to $8,000 an acre-foot to “gift” this water to Castroville. Monterey County Supervisor John Phillips and Ron Stefani both represent Castroville on the M1W Board and other agricultural board members often vote with them.

More puzzling is why the Monterey Peninsula’s hospitality group wants to kill the expansion and wait years for Cal Am’s desal, which may never be built. Why wait, when we could have all the water we need for decades, in about 18 months with the Pure Water Monterey expansion? And it would cost us $1 billion less than Cal Am’s desal.

Concerns that the expansion can’t provide enough water for new development, it’s not drought-proof, its source water is not secure or it takes water that belongs to ag have all been addressed and proven patently false by the Water Management District and M1W staff.

Completion of the expansion would meet the state’s Cease and Desist Order to reduce our draw from the Carmel River, lift the oppressive moratorium on new hookups and allow building and development to resume on the Peninsula. Certifying the environmental report is the first step.

This is a document produced with public money that should be easily certified on its environmental merits. But due to Cal Am’s influence, this vote will be very close.

If you find this abuse of the public trust and money more than outrageous, join Public Water Now in voicing your concern to the M1W board. Ask them to certify this SEIR. Submit an email comment before April 27 to the Monterey One Water board at You can attend the virtual board meeting on April 27. You’ll find details on how to join the meeting here:

Melodie Chrislock is managing director of Public Water Now.

Water boondoggle only smoke and mirrors
Politics won, recycled water lost
Editorial insults people of Castroville
Not smoke and mirrors
The legal realities are problematic

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Melodie Chrislock

About Melodie Chrislock

Melodie Chrislock is the director of Public Water Now, the citizens’ group that organized and promoted the Measure J initiative that requires the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District to pursue a possible public takeover of Cal Am. She lives in Carmel.