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Antique water fountain, detail of a source for drinking water, drinking water

Antique water fountain, detail of a source for drinking water, drinking water

Editor’s note: The following by Tom Moore of the Marina Coast Water District originally appeared as a response to a previous Partisan post about the advertising for the Sea Haven development, formerly Marina Heights, planned for Marina. It is reposted here to expose it to a wider audience.

Now that we’ve gotten out of our system the national politics associated with the “Coming Soon Marina Heights” development or whatever misleading marketing names they will come up with for it, let’s get back to water and why you should not worry/worry.

The Sea Haven/Marina Heights project, along with all of the former Fort Ord, is served by Marina Coast Water District (MCWD). While most of you know the following facts, they are included here for any new readers:

  • MCWD is a government organization, not a private company. As such it is prohibited from making a profit off its ratepayers.
  • MCWD has nothing to do with Cal Am or the Cal Am service area (unless you count the various suits filed by Cal Am against MCWD and MCWD’s countersuits against them as “having to do with”…).
  • MCWD owns outright all of the water service and wastewater collection infrastructure on the former Fort Ord and in Marina itself.
  • MCWD owns nearly 5,200 acre-feet per year (AFY) of the 6,600 AFY of groundwater pumping rights attached to the former Fort Ord (the U.S. Army owns the other approximately 1,400 AFY).
  • MCWD owns 2.2 million gallons per day (MGD) of wastewater treatment rights for the former Fort Ord (the Army owns the other 1.1 MGD).
  • By contract (with FORA), MCWD is honoring and will continue to honor FORA’s allocation of the 5,200 AFY of groundwater pumping rights to the underlying land use jurisdictions (Seaside, DRO, Marina, City of Monterey and Monterey County).
  • FORA long ago divvied up the 5,200 AFY and distributed portions to these land use jurisdictions (even though they do not actually own the rights themselves).
  • ALL of this groundwater comes from the Salinas Valley Groundwater Basin (SVGB). None of it comes from the Carmel River or Cal Am.

When the “Coming Soon Marina Heights” development proposal came to the city of Marina many years ago (under a different political regime) it got several sweet deals. The one that irked those of us keeping an eye on MCWD was that the city pretended that the development would use less water than MCWD engineers said the development would need. This occurred because the city wanted to entitle not only “Coming Soon Marina Heights” but also the Dunes development and Cypress Knolls. However, MCWD’s engineer told the city that there would most likely not be quite enough water in the city’s allocation of groundwater from FORA to build out all three developments.

Those of us who have been paying attention have noted that the full build-out of these various Ord Community developments (despite even the current rapid pace of construction) is many years away. So there is still time for MCWD to find and develop the additional relatively small amounts of water needed to support full build-out …. (OK, if you want to glom onto the “no worries” viewpoint you should stop reading here)… unless things go badly with our groundwater.

So how could things go badly with our groundwater? There are two broad possibilities:

1. If Cal Am succeeds in using the CEMEX property to obtain source water for the size of desal plant that it wants, Cal Am will be taking at least 27,000 AFY from a location a mere 1.8 miles from MCWD’s nearest potable water well and less than 1,800 feet from the location of the source water well for MCWD’s desal plant. This presents a serious potential threat to the groundwater south of the Salinas River where all of MCWD’s wells are located.

(For comparison purposes, MCWD currently pumps less than 4,000 AFY from its wells — thanks to water-conserving ratepayers in Marina and the Ord Community! However, MCWD has the right to pump more than a total of 10,000 AFY eventually. Just the Ord Community’s build out demand has been estimated at 9,000 AFY.)

2. The new groundwater sustainability act ends up forcing MCWD to forfeit some portion of its current total groundwater pumping rights. The whole point of the act was to make groundwater pumpers behave collectively in such a way as to sustain indefinitely the groundwater basins that serve them. Since the Salinas Valley Groundwater Basin has for decades been experiencing seawater intrusion, it is not currently in a sustainable condition. The consequence could be cutbacks in future pumping of groundwater.

And for those of you who may believe that we really don’t have a problem because we live next to the ocean and there is an infinite amount of water there, here is some more bad news. For the past 20 years or so, Cal Am has been proving that it’s not so easy to get source water from the ocean. If it was so easy, why aren’t they getting their source water from Monterey, Seaside or Sand City beachfronts? They could buy up a property in Sand City for the Cal Am desal plant itself and save a whole bunch of pipeline construction. For that matter, if it is so easy to get source water for a desal plant, why not get it from Carmel beachfront? They would avoid tens of millions of dollars of new pipelines through Monterey that are required under their current proposal.

The fact is that desal is NOT easy. Ratepayers don’t want to pay for it, some folks don’t want infrastructure on their pristine beach, regulatory agencies want to make sure the infrastructure causes as little harm as possible, the plants themselves are complicated to operate and maintain, the plants are expensive to build and very expensive to operate (salt and other stuff just doesn’t like to leave water – check the physics involved in the chemistry), the engineering is challenging and few people welcome the disposal of the brine output in their patch of sea. Oh, and did I mention that the ratepayers don’t want to pay for it.

All of these challenges have to be overcome to build a successful desal project that produces water. MCWD should know because it built and operated the first government-owned desal plant on the Central California coast. MCWD knows what these challenges were like and what kind of limitations they put on what is actually feasible. And the plant is currently mothballed precisely because it is too expensive to operate and maintain as long as we have access to groundwater at one tenth the cost.

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Dollarphotoclub_89236926Reading last Sunday’s editorial in the Monterey Herald made me think I’d fallen into an endless loop from “Groundhog Day” two days early.

Without a specific reference to anything beyond a “special report” in a recent Economist magazine, the editorial took to task older members of the community who engage in “controlling growth” because such activity harms housing opportunities for younger members of the community.

Such selfish activity by “current property owners” intent on blocking “any change in their immediate neighborhood,” the editorial argued, is a controlled-growth mindset that extracts a cost inevitably paid by the young in the form of higher housing costs.

This “think of the kids” argument is trotted out in a vast array of public policy debates from changing school principals to reducing the federal debt. And it is fall-back catch-phrase of developers pushing large residential developments, particularly ones in the Salinas Valley and less pricey parts of Monterey County’s coast (Marina and Seaside.)

It’s a hollow and, therefore, unusable pitch to defend expensive new homes in Pebble Beach, Carmel Valley or the Toro corridor on some of the most expensive land on the California coast. Those homes aren’t going to be marketed to working young families, and no one suggests building them for the kids.

The other old saw in the editorial really is the ready acronym that rolls off the tongue with a sneer in many land-use fights — NIMBY for Not in My Backyard. Or as the editorial describes it: entrenched, politically potent property owners seeking to preserve their neighborhoods.

NIMBYism is the perjorative usage, trotted out to paint folks opposed to big residential or commercial projects as selfish dilettantes who cherish empty fields and old trees more than kids and grandkids. The more positive form — protecting our property values — is used when, say, the land-use battle is over safe parking for homeless women at a Monterey church, or a communications tower in the Del Monte forest or a dog park in Carmel Valley.

Hip deep in two hoary arguments against those “controlling growth,”  the editorial presents itself as a philosophical commentary against this attitude in every neighborhood battle over new housing, rather than “a call for massive development here.”

In that case, it’s a rather pointless effort to recycle encrusted rhetoric against “zealous” controlled-growth advocates. Or not.

The only current fight over land use in these parts for the past several years has been over the massive Monterey Downs project, which includes 1,280 new homes along with hotels, offices and its more high-profile horse track, arena and equestrian park.

County supervisors have already given the green light to the only other residential development that produced a lot of recent sparks from Toro area neighbors — the 185-lot Ferrini Ranch project in the rolling hills above Highway 68.

I can’t recall any other battles between neighbors and housing developers over more modest-sized housing projects. They must have slipped under the radar.

The only conclusion is the Herald editorial was either an exercise for thumb-sucking over favorite talking points by developers, builders and real estate agents or a stealth argument for Monterey Downs. For supporters of the Seaside project, the development’s economic benefits — which are open to fierce debate along with its environmental impacts — certainly include more housing opportunities.

But there are hundreds of already approved new home lots on former Fort Ord lands that always get ignored when cries of “remember the kids” and “anti-NIMBYism” are raised to rally the latest project pushed by land developers.

Three very big projects — Marina Heights, The Dunes and East Garrison — have moved into building the first of their total of nearly 3,700 new and long-ago approved homes after being stalled for years by the Great Recession.

East Garrison was first out of the box in 2013, and The Dunes announced its first 117-home phase last year. And Marina Heights says it’s ready to start its first 299 homes beginning this quarter.

Of course, home builders in the three large projects won’t produce all of the approved homes in a frenzy of activity. The path toward buildout will be deliberate. The growth of these new neighborhoods will be controlled.

This controlled growth won’t be the result of selfish neighbors seeking to hurt the kids, but of market demand, price and the builders’ desire to turn a nice profit. This kind of controlled growth is rarely the subject of disdain on editorial pages.

Responses to this and other pieces in the Partisan are encouraged. Publication of reader comments, and the pieces themselves, do not constitute any endorsement of the positions presented. The Partisan greatly prefers accurately attributed comments that avoid personal attacks.

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