Tunnel In

Castroville-area grower Mike Scattini isn’t sure how financing will play among growers. “Not everybody is on the same page about how to solve these problems.”

During the succession of atmospheric rivers that swept over the Central Coast around the turn of the year, the Monterey County Water Resources Agency, per a Jan. 13 statement, increased its “extremely small water releases” from Lake Nacimiento “to reduce the risk of the reservoir spilling over as a result of the next series of storms in our area.”

That reservoir, as of Feb. 28, sits at 86 percent of its capacity, while the county’s other reservoir, Lake San Antonio, is at 41-percent capacity. And therein lies the logic behind the proposed Interlake Tunnel project, which would funnel water from Nacimiento to San Antonio as opposed to increasing releases into the Salinas River. It would provide a way to store the water that needs to be released to prevent a dam failure.

The project was first formally proposed in 1991, the same year MCWRA was formed. But the idea collected dust for more than two decades, until a prolonged drought brought it back to the forefront.

MCWRA’s draft environmental impact report for the project – which involves building an approximately two-mile tunnel between the two reservoirs – was released Jan. 20, and a public review period closes March 21. Even if a final EIR is ultimately approved by county officials, questions remain. Mainly: Who, exactly, will pay for it? And how much?

Lew Bauman, MCWRA’s interim general manager, says the plan is to seek as much state and federal grant money as possible, but that the rest would be up to voters in a Proposition 218 election among stakeholders – landowners who stand to be the primary beneficiaries of the project. Currently, the estimated cost of the project is $180 million.

And that’s on top of the estimated $160 million to do maintenance and repair work on both reservoirs and their spillways – needed fixes that predated this year’s storms – which the county intends to do first, using a similar funding model: grants, and a Prop. 218 vote.

Nancy Isakson, president of the Salinas Valley Water Coalition, says repairing the dams and reservoirs is key before assessing whether or not the tunnel project is worth the cost, especially when considering the combined cost of the projects. “That’s a heck of a lot at once,” she says. “We feel there isn’t enough information.”

Mike Scattini farms in the north Salinas Valley and also serves on the MCWRA board. Speaking as a grower, he says, “It always comes down to who has to pay… We’re going to have to use real science to understand this to see the benefits of this stuff.”

(1) comment

Walter Wagner

It appears to be a question of priorities. Repairs to the dams should take first priority. The second-priority tunnel to share water between our two reservoirs sounds like a good idea, but quite expensive. The water-injection wells for the Peninsula should take priority before the tunnel. The estimated cost for the tunnel, amortized over 20 years, is about $20/year per MC citizen, and should be affordable in the long run. I've frequently water-skied on both reservoirs in times past, and keeping the reservoirs near capacity makes for better skiing, too!

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.