The board of Monterey One Water on Zoom

Due to Covid-19, the board of Monterey One Water is holding its meetings virtually. 

The most popular live-streamed content in Monterey County on Monday night, April 27, might have been the virtual board meeting of the local water treatment agency. At one point, during a heated debate over the finer points of the California Environmental Quality Act, 155 people were tuned in to the Zoom meeting of the Monterey One Water board. 

On a technical level, the board members were discussing whether to certify a supplemental environmental impact report for a water recycling project. But what was potentially at stake—and why so many people cared to participate—was hundreds of millions of dollars in public infrastructure projects and the future of development on the Monterey Peninsula. 

By a razor-thin margin, an alliance of Salinas Valley agricultural interests, California American Water and the hospitality industry won, sinking the chances of one proposed fix to the Monterey Peninsula’s perennial water shortage. By an 11-10 weighted vote, they managed to block the environmental report because it would have jeopardized their preferred water project, a $329-million desalination plant near Marina. The future of the desalination plant depends on getting a permit from the California Coastal Commission, but the commission’s staff has recommended against granting Cal Am a permit, saying that a better option—the water recycling project—has emerged. 

Known as the second phase expansion of Pure Water Monterey plant (which is in operation), this project went from being a universally supported water supply backup to a political football in the long-standing water wars. 

As Molly Evans, a member of the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District board, pointed out, more than $1 million in taxpayer money had been spent on the environmental review. The funding was approved unanimously by her district and Monterey One Water.

“The taxpayers and the ratepayers have provided the funding for this endeavor,” she said. “This document meets all the criteria to be certified. Your personal feelings toward this project have no relevance to certifying this document.”

One of the leading voices on the board against certifying the environmental report was John Phillips, a Monterey County Supervisor representing North County, who acknowledged how unusual his position was. “Normally you glance over [the environmental impact report] and make sure the right boxes have been ticked,” he said. But hearing comments in opposition from the city of Salinas, Monterey County Farm Bureau and Monterey County Water Resources Agency gave him pause: “I did my own research because I realized I could not rely on staff,” he said. 

On the other side of the issue, supporting the conclusion by M1W staff, were M1W board members from Pacific Grove, Seaside, Monterey, and Marina Coast Water District. They were backed by environmentalists and nonprofits like Landwatch and Public Water Now. 

In a reversal of their usual roles, these groups argued that the EIR adequately addressed environmental concerns, while commonly pro-business voices, like board member John Gaglioti and attorney Tony Lombardo, raised environmental concerns.

Gaglioti called for an additional vote, proposing to go one step further than simply rejecting the environmental review. He sought to terminate all future action on the matter and seal the end of the water recycling expansion project. But this time, his side didn’t have a majority. It lost one board member with the sudden defection of M1W board member Linda Grier, who comes from and usually votes with Salinas Valley interests.

In hours of debate, almost no one spoke about how the pandemic might affect water demand and public finances. 

Asaf Shalev is a staff writer at the Monterey County Weekly. He covers the environment, agriculture and K-12 education, as well as Seaside, Marina, Sand City, Big Sur and Carmel Valley.

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(1) comment

Sinbad Sailor

There were a number of significant factual omissions in your article re: the M1W Board mtg. Perhaps you did not watch the entire mtg:

1. PWM/PCA is blowing through taxpayers' $$$$$ at an alarming rate.

2. The M1W Board members said PWM/PCA's budget was such a [ mismanaged] financial disaster that they might not be able to afford to buy a water tank, never mind afford to complete the PWM facility so it's fully operational.

3. It was noted by the M1W Board that the CPUC has mandated that MP have a 14,500 AFA water supply. A stand alone PWM - even if it finally gets completed to its original design - will be 10,000 AFA short. Desalination is necessary to support the MP economy. PWM is unreliable and inadequate and very costly, if unionized gov't labor/pension costs are added in to annual total costs.

4. Thusfar, PWM has produced nothing but bills and broken promises and contractual defaults and an incomplete, invalid pilot study and an EIR riddled with questionable findings.

5. The PWM staff could not/refused to answer questions asked by Judge Phillips and that's why he was forced to do his own research to find answers. There was good reason why Judge Phillips could not rely on PCA/PWM agency staff.

4. COV19 should have been discussed because it survives in feces for 5 days. They ran out of time. 5. Fyi, PWM does not test for viruses. A bacterial indicator, which is insufficient for flagging the presence of many bacterial microbes is what PWM will use. Viruses are different from bacteria..

6. PWM has no plans for a real time viral molecular PCR testing system.

7. PWM will only be legally required to pass weekly, quarterly, annual basic water sample testing for the EPA's/DDW's short antiquated list of 100 regulated individual contaminants with MCLs. The EPA's list was written for conventional unpolluted water sources like Hetch Hetchy and Carmel River. The EPA and DDW have no list of regulated contaminants for potable recycle.

8. The state's DDW has a list of a couple hundred of CEC's with Notification Levels for recycle water. This list is not legally enforceable. Nothing happens if NLs are exceeded. The state's CEC list and NLs are merely "suggestions" - window dressing to fool ratepayers into a false sense of security about public health.

9. The MP Board members tried to keep the M1W Chairman from casting a vote last night. That was a desperate, unseemly stunt that thankfully failed. The Chair represents Castroville taxpayers, who would have been denied a vote.

6. M1W Board members are required to uphold the Constitution and do their due diligence to protect against wasteful abuse of taxpayers' money. I'm not sure why the M1W Board members who were following their fiduciary mandates when they voted no to the SEIR for PWMx, a black hole of tax $ waste and over runs, were described in such derogatory terms as though they are narrow focused special interests controlled politicians like being pro-farmers, pro-desalination, pro-business. The same could be said about the MP board representatives who are a captive audience of environmental special interest groups and a political activist group, Public Water Now, and a MP special district agency that has provided zero drinking water services in the 50 years of its existence.

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