Monterey council OKs evaluating feasibility of a desalination plant
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Monterey may join the list of California cities looking to the sea as a solution to its water shortage.
At a recent City Council meeting, council members agreed to move forward with a preliminary step toward building a desalination plant in Monterey.
On a 3-2 vote, the council approved a request for proposal to see if a desal facility would be feasible, with proposals due to the city by Jan. 31. Once the council reviews the proposals – detailing cost and a work plan to determine if the city’s shoreline could support a desal project – the council likely will hire a firm to conduct the study. Based on what the study finds, the council will decide whether to build a desal facility.
If it’s feasible, a Monterey desal plant would use brackish water – essentially freshwater from beach wells contaminated by salt water – as opposed to water directly from the Bay. Using brackish water reduces energy and disposal costs because it’s not as salty as seawater. Some environmentalists consider brackish water the superior option for desalination.
At the Dec. 4 meeting, council members Nancy Selfridge and Jeff Haferman voted against the motion. Both made it clear they weren’t opposing a long-term water supply. Selfridge said she thought Monterey should hold off studying a city-only desal facility, and instead look at a regional solution. Haferman said he didn’t like the fact that the desal RFP item was placed on the counsel’s consent calendar – council members typically approve the entire consent calendar with one vote unless one of them, or a member of the public, asks that a particular item be pulled for discussion.
“My druthers would be to continue it to a public appearance item in the evening so people can speak to it and so it doesn’t have the appearance of going through on consent,” Haferman said.
The other three elected officials said the public would have plenty of opportunities to weigh in once the RFP goes out and proposals come in to the council. And, the council-approved capital improvement project program for fiscal year 2006-07 includes a desal feasibility study. Councilman Frank Sollecito said it was time to move forward.
“We gave them direction: to ensure an adequate water supply for the city now and in the future,” he said. “I think we need to start doing things for ourselves. I’m not against all the other projects, but if they can’t get themselves together because of political reasons or personal reasons, at least we’re starting the process for ourselves.”
Meanwhile, Pajaro Sunny Mesa Community Service District officials say they are moving forward with a competing desal project. Also, a group called the Monterey Regional Plenary Oversight Group, which is a project of the utilities commission’s Division of Ratepayer Advocates and the UC Santa Cruz Center for Integrated Water Research Urban and Regional Water Research team, is studying a water supply project for the region.
But it will be years before a big, regional solution produces a drop of potable water. So some cities are thinking smaller, like Sand City, where engineers are developing a desalination plant that uses brackish seawater, and will make water available for residents. The Sand City project already has received approval from the Coastal Commission.