With seawater intrusion advancing in the lower Salinas Valley, a new trend may take hold in Monterey County: denial of applications for new agricultural wells.
On Feb. 13, the county Board of Supervisors heard the first-ever appeal of such a denial on the grounds of seawater intrusion concerns.
The County Health Department denied an application for the well on Dec. 7, based on concerns expressed by the Monterey County Water Resources Agency. The well, which will replace an existing well in the 400-foot aquifer that has become unusable due to high chlorides, would tap into the “deep aquifer,” an ancient, finite water supply 900-plus-feet deep. Tapping the deep aquifer is considered “water mining,” and its primary form of recharge is leakage from overlying aquifers.
Among the concerns of county hydrologists is that there is already documented seawater intrusion at the site—at Cooper and McFadden roads in Salinas, known as the Cooper Ranch—and that too little remains known about the deep aquifer’s long-term viability to make an informed water resource planning decision.
After the Health Department denial, property owner General Farm Investment appealed, contending the denial is in effect a “moratorium” on new deep-aquifer wells. (The Water Resources Agency recommended such a moratorium last October to the Board of Supervisors, but it has not yet been adopted by the board.)
But last September, MCRWA recommended approval of a deep-aquifer well at Armstrong Ranch near Marina. Amy Woodrow, a hydrologist with MCWRA, said that came before the agency completed a report with recommendations to combat seawater intrusion.
Against the recommendation of county hydrologists, the supes voted 3-2 to grant General Farm’s appeal, with conditions that include capping the existing fouled well.
Supervisors Jane Parker and Mary Adams dissented. “I have concerns saying we don’t really know, let’s just go ahead and tap into the deep aquifer,” Parker said.