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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.


DSCN0558 (1)“Advertising is legalized lying.” 
–H.G. Wells

If I am not careful with what I am about to write here, I am in great danger of offending some of the fine people of Marina, so I wish to make it clear up front that that is not my intent. The fact is that I’m not entirely sure of my intent, but I saw something in the local papers this week that seemed to me to require some sort of examination, just the way some mountains require climbing.

It was an ad, full page, introducing local readers to a new development, Sea Haven, more specifically Preserve & Residences Sea Haven Monterey Bay. Hard to tell from the ad.

It was a splendid ad if its purpose was to capture attention. If its purpose was to accurately describe the product, however, it was kind of a fail. Very well done but a fail nonetheless.

The artwork is a lovely photo of the shoreline, with dunes and ground cover and some ocean.

The main headline tells us “The Ultimate Luxury is Living in a Place Few Know Exist.”


It goes on to say, “Introducing Sea Haven in the city of Marina, a new residential community and nature preserve in the rolling dunes.”

OK, I said to myself. I must have missed something. There is a significant housing development, a Sea Ranch kind of place, to be built along the Marina shoreline? I know the newspapers are short of resources, or so they’re always telling us that, but how could they have missed this story? And how come I haven’t heard the gnashing of teeth at the Sierra Club or any threats of litigation over the inadequate EIR?

The ad referred me to a website, LifeSeaHaven.com. I proceeded there directly and with great curiosity.

If I wasn’t suspicious before, I was when I read this:

“While the Monterey Peninsula is revered around the world, few know of the little seaside towns that dot the coast along the Monterey Bay just to the north. The city of Marina is the kind of sleepy little beach town we all dream about.”

This is where I fear some Marinites might not care for what I’m writing here because they may see their little city exactly that way. I don’t wish to pick a fight with anyone, especially Partisan readers in Marina. I’ll just say this. I had not previously heard Marina described quite like that.

It goes on with some actually useful information.

“Sea Haven is a sustainable new planned community of approximately 1,050 homes throughout carefully crafted neighborhoods that spread over 248 acres on the former site of the historic Fort Ord U.S. Army Base. Here, the land gently rises and opens itself up to the distant sea for all to enjoy . . . “

Finally, a qualifier. “Distant.” And, on the next page, a map. It’s not exactly on the shoreline. In fact, it’s about a mile inland, at Imjin Parkway and Abrams Drive. Now I was getting it. This is what they used to call Marina Heights, or Cypress Marina Heights. Or, more accurately, the proposed Marina Heights.

Some will recall that the large chunk of former Fort Ord was approved for development back around 2008 when the economy went south. Before being mothballed, the project was in the hands of something called the Chadmar Group. You won’t find much of anything about the current principals on the website, but if you Google around some, you can find a disclaimer site that tells us not to believe everything we read elsewhere and that tells us the developers are now headquartered at a Marina Del Rey address that is home to something called Sunbrook Partners, which apparently is kind of a big deal in the world of real estate.

Oh yeah, there’s also a Facebook page. My favorites line there is this: “Sea Haven is just an ocean-drive away from all types of marine life exploration at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Get outdoors today!”

Take a bow, copywriters. You have outdone yourselves.