While the Marina Coast Water District has had little success in the courts over the past several years, an informal group of Marina residents have banded together to try to win in a different forum: the court of public opinion.
The group formed late last year, well before the draft environmental impact report for California American Water’s proposed Monterey Peninsula Water Supply Project was released for public comment Jan. 13.
At issue is the future water supply for Marina and the former Fort Ord, and the fear among some Marina residents that if Cal Am’s proposed project – which includes 10 slant wells on Marina’s coast to serve a desalination plant – is allowed to go forward, it will further induce seawater intrusion and forever decimate the 180 – and 400-foot aquifers, which remain a key water source for some Marina Coast wells.
Marina City Councilwoman Gail Morton is among those sounding the alarm. Though she says she hasn’t had time yet to read through the entire draft EIR, which numbers more than 2,000 pages, what she read in the executive summary gave her pause.
For one, she says, it states the project would pump “seawater,” when in fact its slant wells would pump highly brackish groundwater, which is contentious as it relates to water rights.
Morton also feels the project’s intake wells – which draw from underground rather than the open ocean, in order to minimize impacts on marine life – put the region’s water supply at risk, favoring marine life at the expense of people.
“There’s no balance,” she says.
To learn more about the proposed project’s impact on Marina’s water supply, Marina Coast Water District is set to hire a firm – to the tune of about $250,000 – to conduct electrical resistivity tomography imaging over Marina Coast’s service area, and beyond. The imaging, which provides a detailed picture of underground features up to 900 feet deep, is carried out by flying over an area with a helicopter that has a suspended instrument hanging beneath it that sends signals into the ground.
About 500 miles of flight lines are planned, but because of permitting issues with Caltrans (the copter must fly relatively low over Highway 1), the imaging won’t happen until spring.
That data would be a key tool for Marina Coast to do its own modeling of impacts related to Cal Am’s project. Though it would come after the comment period for the draft EIR closes on Feb. 27, that modeling could provide influence over whether the project is approved, and – depending on its revelations – potentially stave off harm to Marina’s water supply.
“If they’re operating [slant wells] for two to three years, and then discover significant harm, now what have you set up? An absolute public policy mess,” Marina Coast board member Tom Moore says.
Cal Am Director of Engineering Ian Crooks says test well data shows those fears are unfounded, and adds that the 180 – and 400-foot aquifers have already been intruded by seawater for decades.
“[The concerns] are not founded by history and fact. We have test well results that prove it,” Crooks says. “When you hear these complaints about the [180-foot aquifer], in my mind that’s a crazy proposition – the [180-foot aquifer] was damaged and done a long time ago.”