Scrapping for Seawater
Two private desal proposals jostle for a piece of the wounded Regional Desalination Project.
Thursday, November 3, 2011
If the Regional Desalination Project is too hobbled by its own drama to move on, there are at least a dozen alternative water supply options to consider. But don’t expect them to be any less dramatic, judging by the theatrics at the Oct. 26 “Forum on the Future of the Monterey Peninsula Water Supply.”
Nader Agha and Brent Constanz, who pitched competing desal projects to an audience of about 250 at the Monterey Conference Center, shared the same table. But the animosity between the business associates was palpable.
Both men say they can produce de-salted drinking water for the Monterey Peninsula at a significantly lower cost than the $400 million Regional Project. Both proposals – Agha’s The People’s Moss Landing Water Desal Project and Constanz’s DeepWater Desal – aim to use solar power and other eco-friendly tech. And both have ambitions that are bigger than Monterey County.
California American Water, the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District and the Monterey Regional Water Pollution Control Agency also presented at the Oct. 26 forum, but it was the tension between once-friendly Agha and Constanz that provided the most entertainment.
The Weekly’s media panelist asked what went awry between the two. “There was a betrayal,” Agha replied. Constanz remained silent.
DeepWater Desal proposes to draw seawater from 100 feet deep in the Monterey Submarine Canyon, de-salt it at the Capurro Ranch on Highway 1 in Moss Landing, and produce 25 million gallons of potable water per day – about three times what’s needed to replace Monterey Peninsula’s Carmel River water supply. Constanz, who formerly headed venture-backed green cement manufacturer Calera Corporation (which is headquartered on Agha’s Moss Landing Green Business Park), says DeepWater Desal is looking to sell the water to Santa Cruz, San Benito and Monterey counties.
The People’s Project, by contrast, proposes to draw water from the Moss Landing Harbor enclave and de-salt it in Agha’s business park, where existing infrastructure includes outfall pipes and storage tanks. Agha, who aims to power the desal plant with a 6-megawatt solar array, estimates his project’s capital cost at one-third that of the Regional Project. He hopes to use the People’s Project as a launching pad to build more desalination plants worldwide.
Agha and Constanz once explored a joint deep-water desal venture. The two give conflicting accounts of a subsequent falling-out. “Nader and our team have a difference in philosophy,” Constanz says.
Their quibbling may be a moot point in the larger water supply quandary. Cal Am’s consultants found that of 11 alternatives, only one could meet the December 2016 deadline to cut back Carmel River pumping by 70 percent: a large desalination plant north of Marina, similar to the current Regional Project.
RBF Consulting recommended permitting a 10 million gallon-per-day desal plant, but only building it to three-fourths that capacity in the initial phase, giving other measures like MRWPCA’s recently announced wastewater recycling project time to come online.
“Any effort to expedite development of alternatives would be helpful, given the seriousness of the cease-and-desist order deadline,” Cal Am spokeswoman Catherine Bowie says.
Although RBF didn’t include the People’s Project in its analysis, Bowie thinks the city of Monterey made a good call in adding Agha to the four-hour forum’s lineup.
“I was glad Nader was there,” she says. “I think that’s what kept everyone there past the break.”