It was an apparent miracle in the field Monday, an artichoke field instead of a bean field, but a miracle nonetheless.
Right there within sight of the Cal Am desalination site, almost in the shadow of Highway 1, water streamed from a well that does not exist, or at least it doesn’t exist in the eyes of the company that wrote the draft environmental impact report for the desal plant and also according to the Carmel Pine Cone, which seems to operate as Cal Am’s public relations arm at times.
Environmental Science Associates reported in the draft EIR last month that it had been unable to find any wells at the Ag Land Trust artichoke fields that adjoin the Cemex facility north of Marina, which is where Cal Am plans to build its desalination compound. It matters because Marc del Piero, the lawyer for the Ag Land Trust, argues in court filings that the desalination project could draw down groundwater in the area, injuring the Ag Land Trust wells and possibility accelerating the intrusion of seawater into the fresh water aquifer.
Del Piero’s position is that the Cal Am operation could jeopardizes other wells in the area and that the issue needs further study. The EIR consultant’s position, however, seems to be that there aren’t any other wells to worry about.
It is entirely possible that the consultant, ESA, simply made a mistake or got confused. Or, perhaps, someone decided that by declaring the well non-existent, potential impacts could be ignored despite state law that frowns on ignoring impacts. Who knows? Regardless, the Partisan subsequently reported May 1 that it had found both an operational well on the Ag Land Trust property and a disconnected well nearby.
In conversation with the Partisan on Friday, ESA’s Eric Zigas initially clung to his position that no well exists, and then he backtracked to say there was no “active” well. He then backtracked further, saying his company had not conducted the search for the well. He said that was done by a hydrologist, Martin Feeney, who does work for Cal Am, the Salinas Valley Water Coalition and others. Feeney said Friday that the well doesn’t count because Monterey County officials don’t maintain a log for it, making it illegal. Del Piero says that while the water in the well is slightly too salty to be used for irrigation, the well is properly permitted.
In another conversation, Zigas modified his stance even further. According to the Pine Cone, he acknowledged that there is a well near the reclamation pump at the Ag Land Trust property, but said it is “capped and permanently disconnected.”
In fact, it is neither capped nor disconnected, permanently or temporarily. It was operational two weeks ago and it was operational Monday morning when the Partisan returned to the Ag Land Trust artichoke field north of Marina.
And as the noon hour approached, the clouds that often shade that section of shoreline appeared to part. A shaft of sunlight guided us first to the purple pump that delivers water from the Castroville reclamation facility and then to the well and pipes 20 feet away. The Ag Land Trust’s Sherwood Darington flipped a switch from “reclamation district” to “well.” Soon there was the sound of a motor running and seconds later a column of water gushed from a large pipe, startling some seagulls that had been observing nearby.
As we reported May 1, water pumped by the well is too salty to be used for irrigation, which is why the artichoke operation relies on recycled water pumped in from elsewhere. The water is only about 10 percent as saline as seawater, however, and could be mixed with other water and used for irrigation purposes, according to del Piero. He and I sampled the water Monday. I’m not sure I could taste any salt.
The Partisan had additional questions for Zigas, such as whether his consultants had found the other Ag Land Trust well. The well that gushed on Friday is east of Highway 1. The other well, which indeed is disconnected, is on the other side of the freeway. Zigas declined to answer, however, declaring the conversation “confrontational” before abruptly hanging up. Neither he nor his boss returned subsequent calls.
Del Piero’s comments follow:
“The Pine Cone article, specifically the Zigas quotes and the implications that reporter Kelly Nix tries to draw from them, is obviously false. The groundwater well is fully operational and it is not capped. We ran the well just a few weeks ago. The paper, on behalf of Cal Am is trying to ignore the deficiencies in the draft EIR by implying that the Ag Land Trust deceived the Partisan and its readers.
“Being an apologist for Cal Am’s illegal takings of property rights and the California Public Utilities Commission’s ‘gang that can’t shoot straight’ must be very tiresome for the Cal Am cheerleaders. What newspaper writes an article without checking the facts, or calling the party whose property rights are being taken, or relying solely on a person whose massive mistake will undermine the timeline of the CPUC. By the article, it appears that they are trying to undercut the credibility of the Ag Land Trust, which is objecting to Cal Am’s intentional illegal taking of the trust’s groundwater rights and supplies without compensation, and to undercut the credibility of the Partisan, because they do not like Proprietor Editor Royal Calkins, who took the time to check his facts and visit the well.”
The Partisan directed several questions to the author of the Pine Cone report, but his only response was to repeat that Zigas said the well is permanently out of commission.