Water District and Watermaster boards butt heads over ecoresort’s water permit.
Friday, March 27, 2009
The Seaside Groundwater Basin Watermaster and the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District are in a pissing match over the water distribution permit for the proposed Monterey Bay Shores Ecoresort in Sand City.
In February the water district board denied the resort’s water distribution permit, requiring the developer, Security National Guaranty, to prepare a subsequent environmental impact report addressing water supply.
But on March 18, the Seaside Groundwater Basin Watermaster board took umbrage with the district’s decision. Five days later the watermaster board chair, Seaside Mayor Ralph Rubio, delivered a letter to the water district board, asking it to reconsider its action.
On March 26 the water board held its ground, adopting the findings of SNG’s permit denial. The developer’s attorneys have threatened to appeal.
The issue is complicated, and traces back to a 2006 Superior Court action to better manage the overdrafted Seaside aquifer. The judge guaranteed SNG the right to 149 acre-feet of water from the Seaside Basin, and SNG is only asking for 90.
But rather than pump from the resort’s on-site well, which risks seawater intrusion, SNG has asked California American Water to deliver its water.
According to Cal-Am, some of that water will come from the Carmel River. And that’s where the waters get murky, because Cal-Am is under state orders to reduce pumping from the river.
SNG maintains that even if basin water mixes with river water in Cal-Am’s storage tanks, the total annual water supply will be drawn from the Seaside Basin.
But Cal-Am can’t guarantee the resort’s water will come from the basin year-round. It may come from the river in the wet season (November through April) and from the basin in the dry season.
That triggers the need for environmental impact analysis under the California Environmental Quality Act, according to the water district.
“[The developer] can pump his own wells on his own parcel and we would not be having this conversation,” says district Project Manager Henrietta Stern.
The decision left the Peninsula mayors and landowners on the watermaster board worrying the water district would question their court-secured water rights too.
“I really feel that we lost something that night,” said Paul Bruno, a watermaster board member representing the coastal subarea landowners. “If we don’t take action to take it back, we’ll forever lose it.” Watermaster CEO (and Del Rey Oaks City Manager) Dewey Evans backs up the ecoresort developer: “He’s met all our requirements, so we did what we have to do, and that’s allow him to produce the water out of the basin.”
But water district attorney David Laredo defends the water board’s findings, chalking up the conflict with the watermaster to a legal misunderstanding. “I think all the watermaster board is wanting is a recognition that its rights as an overlying pumper are not being impaired,” he says. “I don’t see that we are at odds.”