By Melodie Chrislock
It seems some are willing to wait forever for a new water supply. After 25 years of failure, they still trust Cal Am to come up with a solution.
But the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District is clearly done waiting. Last Monday, the district board withdrew its support for Cal Am’s proposed desal plant. It voted 4-3 to send a letter to the Coastal Commission asking to deny the project’s permit so that the Pure Water Monterey Expansion can move forward. Directors Alvin Edwards, Molly Evans, Mary Adams and George Riley voted to send the letter. Gary Hoffmann, Dave Potter and Jeanne Byrne voted against it.
This vote came only four days after the Peninsula’s elected leaders, including State Sen. Bill Monning and Assemblymember Mark Stone, sent a letter to the State Water Resources Control Board, the Coastal Commission and others asking them to support the Pure Water Monterey Expansion.
Cal Am’s desal is no longer seen as the best option. It’s not a cost-effective or environmentally sustainable solution to our long-term water needs. It would use a massive 38,000 megawatt-hours of power from PG&E and become the region’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases on the coast. By design, this desal will exacerbate seawater intrusion, which endangers Marina’s long-term water supply. It also creates gross environmental injustice for the lower-income, predominantly minority communities of Marina and Seaside.
And now the long-ignored issue of water rights has been raised. This has been the elephant in the room all along. Cal Am has no legal source of water for its desal plant. This desal draws its source water from the Salinas Valley Groundwater Basin. But the Agency Act prohibits exporting groundwater from this overdrafted basin. How does Cal Am plan to draw 17,000 acre-feet a year and export almost all of it? This is a groundwater desal with no groundwater rights. This issue is waiting to be heard by Monterey County Superior Court.
At this point, it’s hard to understand why anyone would still support Cal Am’s desal, but Monterey County Hospitality Association and the Chamber of Commerce both stubbornly cling to this solution. They continue to repeat false arguments, claiming the expansion will not provide enough water or will not lift the cease and desist order imposed by the state Water Resources Control Board to stop diverting water from the Carmel River aquifer. But these claims have been proven patently false. Why are they still waiting for Cal Am to solve our water supply problem when the Pure Water Monterey Expansion is available now?
Pure Water Monterey is an innovative and environmentally sustainable water supply solution. Its expansion would provide a drought-proof water supply. Unlike Cal Am’s desal, PWM’s source water is legally secure. Three independent reports have now confirmed that it would provide more than enough water to meet the Peninsula’s needs for the next 30 years. And its estimated 30-year cost is $1 billion less than Cal Am’s desal. It can lift the cease and desist order on the Carmel River in approximately 20 months, much sooner than desal.
The PWM Expansion has only one real problem. It’s not profitable for Cal Am. So Cal Am is attempting to block and discredit it. It was Cal Am who asked the Monterey One Water Board not to certify the Expansion’s Environmental Impact Report. They did this to convince the California Coastal Commission that the PWM Expansion is not a feasible alternative. Killing the expansion would make Cal Am’s desal the only game in town.
Members of the Monterey One Water Board are motivated by Cal Am’s siren promise of 700 acre-feet of desal water for Castroville, which would be heavily subsidized by Peninsula ratepayers. Supervisor Phillips and Salinas Valley agricultural interests want the Peninsula to pay $1.2 billion for a desal plant they don’t need to solve a seawater intrusion problem they didn’t create in Castroville. So they continue to block the PWM Expansion.
Few realize that with all the water we’ve conserved and the additional 3,500 acre-feet from Pure Water Monterey, we can actually meet the state’s cease and desist order on December 31, 2021, without desal or the PWM Expansion. Adding another 2,250 acre-feet from the expansion would lift the moratorium on new hookups, allow development to resume and make it possible to pay back the Seaside Basin overdraft. Why are we waiting?
All that stands in the way of the Pure Water Monterey Expansion is Cal Am’s refusal to sign a Water Purchase Agreement. It’s wrong, but Cal Am has the final say in our future water supply. If Cal Am’s desal permit is denied by the Coastal Commission in August, will Cal Am finally allow the PWM Expansion to move forward? Or will it continue to block any new water supply that is not profitable to Cal Am?
Melodie Chrislock is the managing director of Public Water Now.
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