Weitzman: Piercing the legal reality is problematic

This in response to the April 30 commentaries by J. Eric Tynan and Chuck Cech, both dealing with 700 acre-feet of desalinated water scheduled to be returned annually to Castroville from Cal Am’s proposed desalination plant in Marina.  I agree with Tynan that Castroville could profit from that, at least early in the project, and with Cech that the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) did not account for project source water from the Dune Sand aquifer in its project certification, but I disagree with both about the viability of that 700-acre-feet schedule over the years.   

As I reported in my response to the commentary by Public Water Now managing director Melodie Chrislock on the same subject, the PUC in its project certification claims that whatever the amount of desalinated water to be returned to the Salinas Valley might be now, that amount will dwindle over the years to almost zero.  Cech is correct in his observation that the PUC failed to take source water from the Dune Sand aquifer into account, but that failure affects only the amount of desalinated water required to be returned to the Salinas Valley in the first year or two of the project.  Over time, the seawater intrusion caused by the project will apply to both the 180-foot aquifer and the Dune Sand aquifer. According to a hydrogeologist who is an expert on modeling hired by Water Plus, Cal Am’s desalination project was “designed” to cause seawater intrusion, meaning that over time the project would replace with seawater virtually all the freshwater in the source water provided by even the Dune Sand aquifer.

The Water Ratepayers Association of the Monterey Peninsula (Water Plus) is well aware of the Dune Sand aquifer.  In fact, Water Plus was the first (and, at the time, the only) party to the PUC proceeding on Cal Am’s project to bring attention to that aquifer.  We revealed that the 2015 EIR for the project and the 2017 report on it by its Hydrogeological Working Group failed even to consider that aquifer in their modeling of the project’s environmental impact.  My response to Chrislock was based solely on the description of the project by Cal Am and by the CPUC in its project certification.

That description, particularly regarding eventual 99 percent seawater intrusion into source-water aquifers, reflects the evidentiary record accepted by the PUC for the project.  In today’s vernacular, that is their truth.  Whether it is factual really does not matter in their legal world.  Piercing that world is challenging, if it is even possible. No one knows that better than Public Water Now and Water Plus.

Ron Weitzman
Water Ratepayers Association of the Monterey Peninsula

About VOMB

Voices of Monterey Bay is a nonprofit online news source serving California's Central Coast.