Dead in the Water

The overpumping of the Carmel River to supply the Monterey Peninsula harms the watershed’s ecosystem.

Almost exactly 25 years after being ordered to stop illegally pumping water from the Carmel River, the Monterey Peninsula will have to beg state officials for another extension.

On July 20, the board of the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District voted unanimously to send a letter to the State Water Resources Control Board acknowledging the failure to make progress on developing a new water supply.

One of the major projects proposed as an alternative to the Carmel River, a desalination plant near Marina, was supposed to be under construction by California American Water. But the desalination project drew opposition from Marina officials, and raised environmental concerns at the California Coastal Commission, resulting in delays.

Cal Am was required under an SWRCB order to begin drilling wells for the desalination plant by Sept. 30, but achieving that milestone is now impossible because of the legal and regulatory battles the company faces.

“It is obvious to all in our community that the milestone will be missed,” the letter from the MPWMD says.

The penalty for missing a milestone is a major reduction in the volume of river water available to the Peninsula. The letter requests a waiver, arguing that such a reduction would be “punitive… given the economic hardships already being endured as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.”

The letter also states that neither desal nor any other water supply project is likely to be completed by the SWRCB’s deadline of Dec. 31, 2021. “Clearly, the time is ripe to begin thoughtful discussion about extending the final deadline,” the letter reads.

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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