Move over, summer fiction stack. Anyone interested in the Monterey Peninsula’s future water supply has some heavy reading ahead.
On April 30, California Public Utilities Commission released the draft environmental impact report (EIR) for California American Water’s proposed Monterey Peninsula Water Supply Project. The EIR is 1,789 pages; the appendices, another 1,971.
Cal Am is under legal orders to drastically reduce pumping from the Monterey Peninsula’s two main water sources, the Carmel River and the Seaside Aquifer. The Water Supply Project would replace much of that with a desalination plant in north Marina.
One of Cal Am’s biggest challenges is proving its desal intake wells will draw mostly seawater, rather than groundwater claimed by Salinas Valley growers. A few recent findings bode well for that.
Martin Feeney, a member of the project’s Hydrogeologic Working Group, says monitoring data show Cal Am’s test well on the Cemex mining property has pumped 78-81 percent seawater in its first few runs – and he expects that number to rise over time. Cal Am has controversially proposed to sell the freshwater back to Salinas Valley growers.
And the intake wells may draw less freshwater than predicted. “The core sample indicates there’s less clay and silt than anticipated, which means there’s going to be more water coming from the ocean,” says Eric Zigas of Environmental Science Associates, the consulting firm that prepared the EIR.
But Ron Weitzman, president of citizen advocacy group Water Ratepayers Association of the Monterey Peninsula (formerly WaterPlus), still sees a cluster of red flags on the project.
For one, he says, Cal Am proposes to turn its test well into a permanent well. The company doesn’t have an EIR for that. Also, the presence of any freshwater means Cal Am is drawing from the Salinas Valley aquifer, allegedly in violation of county law.
The EIR suggests the Water Supply Project can reduce its environmental impacts by pairing with a proposed wastewater recycling project.
Just eight days before the Water Supply Project EIR dropped, Monterey Regional Water Pollution Control Agency released the draft EIR for the Pure Water Monterey Groundwater Replenishment Project, which would capture and treat wastewater for re-use.
About 3,500 acre-feet per year of that water would flow to Peninsula customers, allowing Cal Am to scale down the desal plant’s output from 9.6 million to 6.4 million gallons per day.
Weitzman says Cal Am can’t count on the Pure Water project yet, because the owners of the proposed wastewater sources (which include stormwater, residential, agricultural and industrial flows) haven’t agreed to funnel it over.
He suspects the two related EIRs were timed politically. The Water Supply Project is pacing almost three years behind the state-imposed deadline of December 2016, so Cal Am and Peninsula officials are asking the State Water Resources Control Board to give them more time before cutting back the Carmel River supply.
“Both EIRs were put out prematurely in order for people to take to the state water board to get them to relax the [river cutback] order,” Weitzman says. “They’re a house of cards built on a house of cards.”