Chrislock: Politics Won, Recycled Water Lost

After receiving 170 letters from the public asking for certification, the Monterey One Water Board has refused to certify the Pure Water Monterey Expansion SEIR (Supplemental Environmental Impact Report). The vote was close, 11 voted no on certification versus 10 yes. John Phillips, Gloria De La Rosa, and John Gaglioti led the effort to block certification in a vote that mirrored dysfunctional U.S. Senate style politics. No environmental reasons were given, no facts were needed, just “local party” politics as usual.  

This was a meticulous environmental document that was ignored in favor of selfish political arguments. Staff and consultants who created the SEIR were relegated to bystanders, while Ag and hospitality interests assailed it, not on its flaws, but on their own flawed understanding.

Over and over, they complained that there was not sufficient source water for the Expansion. But the SEIR clearly showed there was more than enough legally available source water, with 3,750 acre-feet of recycled water available beyond what is needed for the Expansion. 

John Phillips argued that if Castroville doesn’t get the 750 acre-feet of water they were promised from Cal Am’s desal, it would be a cold day in hell before the Peninsula would see any water. He neglected to add that the Peninsula must pay for Castroville’s desal water.

Others argued that this would take water from farmers. But they didn’t mention that the water they would lose does not belong to the farmers. The north county CSIP irrigation program has been using about 1,700 AF of recycled water annually that belongs to Monterey One Water and the Marina Coast Water District. It’s not their water, but Ag is crying foul because they feel entitled to it.

When it came to the vote, the No votes on the Board ignored all the work done by their staff and consultants on this environmental document. They chose to focus on their fear that if the SEIR were to be certified, the Coastal Commission would see the Expansion as the preferred alternative to Cal Am’s desal and refuse to give Cal Am the go-ahead. 

Last year this same Board agreed that the Expansion was to be a backup plan in case Cal Am’s desal was delayed or failed. They spent $1 million of the public’s money on this environmental document and then changed their minds and refused to certify it purely on political grounds.

Why does the Ag Community want desal on the Peninsula? The truth is they want the less expensive recycled water for themselves. Their plan is that the Peninsula should be dependent on Cal Am’s $1.2 billion desal plant for water, leaving the much less expensive recycled water for them.

But they don’t pay Cal Am bills, and they’ve never had to pay for Cal Am’s failures. They foolishly trust Cal Am. 

In an ironic close, John Phillips said he is concerned that this water project is driving a wedge between the Peninsula and Salinas. Maybe he should put down his sledgehammer.

Make no mistake, the strategy here is to trick the Coastal Commission into approving Cal Am’s desal in August by making it look like the Expansion is not feasible. Will it work?

Melodie Chrislock

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.

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