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The latest search for a water supply to replace most of the water now taken from the Carmel River aquifer began five years ago. Because there is so much history and confusing information, this report is intended to provide up to date facts and figures.

CalAm’s plan is to produce 6.4 million gallons per day (mgd) or 7,170 acre feet per year (afy) of water by desalinating brackish water pumped from slant wells drilled on the Cemex sand plant in Marina.  A test well has indicated that the brackish water will be 8 to 10% fresh water. The future water supply plan also includes 3.1 mgd or 3,500 afy of recycled water that will be produced by advanced technologies that remove all contaminants including most of the dissolved salts and will render it cleaner than almost all of the municipal waters served in the country.

The recycled water project, known as PureWaterMonterey (PWM), is now under construction.   It is being produced under an agreement between Monterey One Water (M1W), formally known at the Monterey Regional Water Pollution Control Agency, and the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District. The recycled water will be injected into the ground and withdrawn later for use.

At the hearing for the recycling project’s draft environmental impact report a number of questions were raised about the desal project that are now being reviewed by the lead agency, the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC). A draft final decision on the project is expected next spring with the final go/no-go decision expected next summer.

Here is a quick overview of a few of the major questions and here is the latest Monterey Herald article on the water recycling plan and various scenarios.

WOULD THE DESAL PLANT’S SLANT WELLS HARM THE SALINAS VALLEY AQUIFER? Cal Am says no and says it has studies to backup that position. The slant wells will remove almost 20 mgd of water, which will depress the water table near the wells. Of the well water, 1 to 2 mgd would be fresh water. To avoid the legal ban on exporting Salina Valley groundwater from the basin, Cal Am has agreed to sell an equivalent volume of the costly desalinated water to the Castroville Community Services District at a heavily discounted price.

Marina Coast Water District (Marina Coast) says it will be harmed by the wells and that selling the water to Castroville will not mitigate the damage to its wells. Marina Coast also says that it has studies that back up that position. The slant well extractions might accelerate seawater intrusion and damage other existing public and private well water users.

DOES CAL AM HAVE WATER RIGHTS? Cal Am doesn’t seem to have water rights for this extraction of groundwater. However, the company’s position is that the brackish water is too salty to be usable for municipal or agricultural use, so it is not really groundwater subject to water rights. Critics point out that project will take 1 to 2 mgd per day of fresh water out of the seriously overdrafted Salinas Valley ground water basin to replenish the brackish supply. Does the high level of salinity make a water right unnecessary? How long will it take to get a final decision on this question?

WHAT IF THE CAL AM PROJECT FAILS? The desal questions may take time and costly litigation to resolve. But, there is an alternative water supply that can be considered. The Pure Water Monterey (PWM) recycling project that is already underway can be expanded by taking advantage of currently uncommitted wastewater. By expanding the PWM project, these flows can be added to the supplies processed by the ultra-high-quality treatment system and stored temporarily underground.   An additional increment can be added by the lining of ponds that receive storm runoff from Salinas and adding more food processing wash water. The source water allocations for the proposed expansion have already been agreed to in concept by the Monterey County Water Resources Agency. The recycled water uses no groundwater, has no direct ocean intake and the resulting cost will be less than the cost of desalinated sea water.

HOW MUCH WATER IS REALLY NEEDED? As a result of all the conservation efforts, Cal Am’s total production in 2016 was 9,600 acre feet. Pure Water Monterey has defined expansion scenarios based on incremental development of water sources and storage capacities. The ongoing project will produce 3,500 afy, which when added to the baseline supplies without desal will produce 9,044 afy.

If the equipment is run “full throttle” (Scenario A), it will be able to produce about 9,700 afy. But this is not a sound long-term strategy. Building the proposed expansion (Scenario B) will bring the total to 11,300 afy, which should meet the demand for several years. Scenario B is a practical project. The timing will be tight but, if started very soon, it should be operational within the time frame dictated by the state regulators. A reasonable long-term system capacity would be 12,000 to 12,500 afy, which could be met by an additional expansion (Scenario C). This expansion will be dependent on source water that is yet to be secured and will be more expensive and vulnerable to drought cutbacks. If Scenario C is ultimately developed, the recycled water option will have reached a practicable limit and other options will need to be considered for future supplies.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? The state Public Utilities Commission will be dealing with these issues over the next few months and will reach a final decision on the slant well desal project next summer.   If the EIR is accepted and all disputes settled with Salinas Valley interests, Cal Am will probably proceed to obtain the remaining state and other permits and only the Scenario A (the ongoing PWM recycling project, running full out) will be needed. If opponents to the project are not satisfied with the CPUC decision, the final decision may be made in court.

If state regulators reject the CalAm project, or if the project becomes bogged down with lawsuits, or if the regulators required that all available recyclable water must be reused before brackish water can be extracted, the expanded PWM Scenario B can be built and the desalted seawater will not be needed for several years.

Getting past the crisis will allow time to develop options. Desal that depends on pumping ground water in the Salinas valley is a highly risky approach due to water rights, legal challenges and unforeseeable changes to water regulations and water tables, and should be avoided. A supplementary source other than recycled water will be smaller and would provide valuable redundancy. Fortunately, the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District has been investigating other approaches such as increased storage of winter river flows and possible smaller desalination options.

For more on the CalAm project, see: https://www.watersupplyproject.org/faq For PureWaterMonterey, see http://purewatermonterey.org      For the DEIR: http://www.cpuc.ca.gov/Environment/info/esa/mpwsp/deir/CalAm_MPWSP_DEIR.pdf

Roger Dolan is a retired water and wastewater engineer and utility manager who lives in Carmel Valley

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Ken Peterson October 9, 2017, 3:56 pm

    And, just signed into law, a speedier way to capture stormwater runoff before it reaches the ocean, for potential other uses on land. (Irrigation water or drinking water, perhaps?) http://sd18.senate.ca.gov/news/1062017-governor-signs-legislation-improve-water-management-capture-free-rainwater

  • Bob Oliver October 9, 2017, 4:13 pm

    We need to build a dam, reservoirs, and ground water replenishment infrastructures. Stop believing in “the lies”. Local Officials and Cal AM, & PUC R ripping uus offff bigggg$$$ time.
    Bob Oliver 831 383-2676

  • john moore October 9, 2017, 4:16 pm

    What a white elephant in the making. The desalination technology is unproven and fraught with litigation issues. The state has failed to obtain data and devise tests of recycled toxic waste water, so the recycle project(which is admittedly a first of its kind)is briskly going forward(or backwards) with no potential safety tests for the recycled water. PWM has stated that the recycled water will pass the state tests for recycled sewage, but that was never really in doubt. With no test for the hazardous waste water, we will not learn about the safety of the water for drinking until it is too late. Politicians should not attempt scientific endeavors until well after the technology has been proven. I read the EIR for the recycle project. The Engineer for the EIR opined that the recycled sewage and toxic agricultural waste is probably safe, but he failed to mention that there was no precedent or existing tests to prove potability. Why not just one large deep water desalination project? There is safety in certainty. JMM

  • Janet Collins October 9, 2017, 5:42 pm

    Why not just ask the powers that be, the CEOs in charge of the two projects a simple question, yes or no….Do you have the required permits, (approved), from the Federal regulatory agengies to build these projects…If the answer to this question regarding any part of any of the projects is no, that presents, in my opinion, a “fatal flaw”…The project should not go forward….

    • john moore October 9, 2017, 6:11 pm

      They have the permits for the Recycling of toxic waste, but the state has not developed tests to determine that the process removes dangerous hazardous waste(some of which is porous, so goes right through reverse osmosis systems). PWM is aware of the fact that there are not yet standards and proven tests of recycled hazardous toxic waste, but it got its permits, so full speed ahead.

  • Karl Pallastrini October 9, 2017, 7:01 pm

    I have said this before. The issues are complicated…and beyond the comprehension of most rate-payers for any number of reasons. My issue is the cozy relationship Cal-Am has with the PUC. Anything that appears to remotely possible will get their support. Cal AM is in the drivers seat. The PUC and the rate-payers know what to expect. The rates will go up, but water is likely to come out of the tap. Let’s not kid ourselves…it will be difficult to move from private to public administration of water. For the life of me…I cannot figure out why the MPWMD cannot play a greater role in the issue. Please clarify. What is at stake? Dis-favor with Cal-Am? We once voted to remove the agency for a lack of impact…only later to find out that the vote was advisory….not definitive. The technical details are great for those who will take the time to research their validity. Most will not. The opportunity is ripe for change. A private company profiteering from virgin rate-payers during the draught should be enough to show their true colors. Insurrections are difficult…but commitment to change is the real issue for rate-payers. I did not fall off of a turnip truck yesterday…but I realize that it will take money and time to get our water distribution system right. I will pay the tariff, because I believe that it is the “right thing to do.”

    • Dan Turner October 9, 2017, 10:56 pm

      There are seven directors on the MPWMD Board of Directors. Two are appointed (a mayor from a WMD city and the County Supervisor from District 5, which encompasses most of the WMD) and five are elected. The current mayor on the Board is Rubio of Seaside and he is 100% in CalAm’s pocket and unalterably opposed to community-owned water. Mary Adams is now the Supe for District 5 and, although she won’t come right out and say it now, she will most likely favor getting rid of CalAm and establishing a community-owned system. So, that’s 1 to 1, so far.
      Of the elected Directors two, Brenda Lewis and Molly Evans, are in favor of giving CalAm the boot. That’s 3-1 in favor of community-owned water. Unfortunately, the other 3 elected directors, Andrew Clarke representing Monterey/DRO, Jeanne Byrne representing PG/Del Monte Forest and Bob Brower representing Carmel Valley are implacably opposed to jettisoning CalAm and going public. So, the bad news is that it’s 4-3 against getting rid of CalAm and establishing a public water district.
      The good news is that these are elected positions and we can get rid of these bad folks and replace them with Directors who are in favor of community owned water and who will put residents first, instead of giving businesses preferentially lower rates, which is what CalAm has done over the past few years in return for the biz community’s support against our efforts to get rid of CalAm.
      As a matter of fact, if we cannot find good people to run against, and replace, these 3 awful current Directors, our movement has a serious problem.
      Also, after we win and get rid of Cal/Am, a seat on the WMD Board may become one of the most important elected offices in the area.

  • Janet Collins October 9, 2017, 7:33 pm

    So, John…Let me see if I understand what it is what you said about the state NOT developing tests to determine that the process removes DANGEROUS hazardous waste (some of which is porous, so goes right through a reverse osmosis system). Gee, that gives one a warm , fuzzy feeling. AND, THEY GOT THEIR PERMITS ANYWAY???? I’d like to see the one from the Regional quality Control Board that assures me that DDT can be removed..And they’re OK with it…I personally wouldn’t drink a thing that didn’t assure me that ALL the permitting agengies could assure me that the PARTICULAR effulent that comes off the Aggricultual fields could be cleaned up well enough for human consumption in view of the chemicals the growers use on their fields and the run off…That’s where this water comes form…Full speed ahead, my foot….

    • john moore October 10, 2017, 7:45 am


  • Michael Baer October 9, 2017, 9:18 pm

    John, you write, “Politicians should not attempt scientific endeavors until well after the technology has been proven.” That is the most concise statement ever about why we are in this predicament.

    Roger, you have done a good job of summarizing much of the process without overly inserting your opinion on the issues. But there is at least one major oversight. The original test slant well permit, and the project proposal as outlined in the DEIR for the desal plant say that the source water intake will come from underneath the ocean floor. But it doesn’t. The well stops at the shoreline, and therefore the water is drawn from the coastal aquifers which is what creates the water rights issues, lawsuits and increasing seawater intrusion.

    The Coastal Commission who issued the permit for the slant well has yet to explain why the slant well was not built as permitted, or why they are allowing it to proceed when it is clearly out of compliance. Perhaps the best explanation is offered by John, “Politicians should not attempt scientific endeavors until well after the technology has been proven.”

    • Roger Dolan October 10, 2017, 9:56 am

      Michael, you are right about the well not reaching the shoreline. Why they claimed it would was a bit of a puzzle to me as the maximum length that a slant well could be constructed was known before the work began as was the slope and distance of the wellhead from the shore. I suspected that the well would not go to the shore just from available information. There might be a legal argument that they thought might be proffered to defend the taking of groundwater as the western boundary of the SV groundwater basin was the shore. But, even if the well tip made it to the sea, the well water enters the well through several hundred feet of well screen that would always have been shoreside of the sea. Perhaps there was a thought that no one would notice…hmmm… I think it was always spurious bait and switch.
      The uninformed, but strongly stated opinions about desal being unproven technology must come from individuals unaware of the decades of developing tech on desal from flash evaporators, through kidney dialysis membrane development to the RO process that is being used in Israel, Spain and throughout the Middle East as well as on vessels from cruise ships to the various navy’s of the world. The changes that made the process feasible were the reduction in cost of the membranes and design refinements of the process equipment. The SWRCB and EPA have painstakingly developed regulations that impose the strict protocols specifically for recycled wastewater that are being followed. Injection of treated wastewater into the ground that is later withdrawn for public consumption has been going on for many decades in Orange County.

      One last thought – NOAA has said no to dams. You might not agree with NOAA, but sorry, they have the say. If we reject recycled water, and then CPUC or the courts reject the slant wells- where’s the water going to come from? Nader and DeepWater would both using open-water, direct intakes. SWRCB has tough requirements that cannot be met within the time constraints. And, the many of the local electeds are still betting on the CalAm approach. Rather than getting emotional about what might be wrong with proposed solutions, we all need to put on out problem solving caps and start thinking about how to find a clean, safe and affordable supply. In MontereyOne Water and the Water Management District we have experts who are doing their best, and to this old utility manager, they know what they are doing.

  • Janet Collins October 10, 2017, 11:00 am

    First, I apologize for my spelling..Should reread at night, when tired,86, and oh so ready for bed…Anyway, I digress…This ditch, where PMW water will come from, is under Federal jurisdiction because it is considered a navigitable waterway…(I didn’t make this up.) They will NEED FEDERAL PERMITS ). After serving a number of years on the MCWRA Board I was informed at that time in one of our studies that ASR, (Aquifer Storage and Recovery), is an extraordinarily difficult process and tenuious at best…Maybe impruvements have been made since I’ve been there, maybe not…But it begs the question, is that the kind of project one wants to hang one’s hat on…The suggeston above of strictly desal seems to make more sence…Just saying…

  • Janet Collins October 10, 2017, 4:29 pm

    OMG…Spelling still terrible…Please forgive….Maybe it just comes with the aging process….Oh, well…

  • bill leone October 10, 2017, 10:00 pm

    Dan makes an interesting point about replacing the MPWMD Board of Directors: they can be voted out of office. However, allow me to remind you, Mayor Rubio narrowly won his seat in the last election (he was challenged by at least two Seaside residents who had Never run for public office before; he would have lost if one of those “spoiler” candidates did not run, & will more than likely loose, if he runs again. The MCDCC did Not endorse him for the last election, & if I have anything to do with it, will not endorse him for the next election, if he decides to run again. The elected officials who seem to be making a significant difference in local politics are….Progressive Democrats (as opposed to “Faux Democrats,” like Dave Potter).
    Moral of the story: get involved with the local Democratic Party (MCDCC) in order to endorse issues & candidates who are interested in preserving the Quality of Life on the Monterey Peninsula.