Finally, a reason for all opposing factions in the Great Monterey Peninsula Water War to come together in celebration. Several years and $126 million later, the region’s water filtration and purification plant has received the final green light from state regulators.
As soon as this week or next, water that was once sewage will flow out the plant clean and be injected into the deep underground reservoirs that we drink out of. It will take months for the new flow to percolate down through layers of gravel and sand and mix with the existing supply.
The Pure Water Monterey project is the result of a collaboration between two government agencies, Monterey One Water and Monterey Peninsula Water Management District, and the local utility, California American Water. The 3,500 acre-feet of potable water produced every year will provide more than one-third of the current water demand of the Monterey Peninsula.
The project was born out of a 1995 state ruling that the region’s reliance on the Carmel River for water is illegal and ecologically damaging. For 25 years, the state has been demanding the development of alternative sources of water. Conservation measures and new water storage infrastructure have allowed a reduction in Carmel River pumping, but Pure Water Monterey is the first major new source to come online and a critical step toward the lifting of the various restrictions on water use that have made it difficult for the Monterey Peninsula to develop and grow. The population level of the area has has not changed much in decades even as California's has grown by about ten million since 1990.
The next step is where the issue becomes contentious. After the water provided by recycling, Cal Am wants to meet the region’s remaining needs by building a desalination plant near Marina. But the Coastal Commission, whose approval is necessary for the intake wells that would supply that plant, says it won’t be ready to decide for a while.
A failure of the desalination project would raise the prospects of a proposal to expand Pure Water Monterey instead. Cal Am and its allies say that only desal plant would save the region from its water woes. Opponents of Cal Am say desal is too expensive and unnecessary because of the Pure Water Monterey expansion.
The expansion plan for Pure Water Monterey is currently undergoing an environmental review. A public comment period closed on Jan. 31 after a month-long extension. Regulators received 51 comments, 22 of which were about the extension.