War of the Wells

Marina City Councilwoman Gail Morton is among those raising awareness of the potential risk of Cal Am’s slant wells to Marina’s water supply. “I’m trying to get people to jump up and be accounted for,” she says.

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.”

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(1) comment

Marc Del Piero

The California American Water Company has NO PROOF (and never has) that it has any legal groundwater rights in the Salinas Valley. To CalAm's paid PR persons and engineers who are paid to make unsupported public pronouncements:
Please show the public, the Weekly, and your hapless ratepayers, that you have WRITTEN PROOF of CalAm's existing groundwater rights and show us your recorded deeds and property rights to take groundwater from other people's property (without paying any compensation). Show the Weekly's inquiring readers that you have the written legal documents wherein CalAm already has lawfully purchased the rights to sell other people's groundwater for huge corporate profits. Isn't there a state statute prohibiting CalAm's proposed export of groundwater from the already overdrafted Salinas Valley? Did CalAm pay for the dams at Lake San Antonio or Lake Nacimiento? Did CalAm pay for the regional reclaimed wastewater (purple valve) project to eliminate seawater intrusion like the farmers next to Marina? Did CalAm pay for, and continue to pay for, the annual assessments for the "rubber dam" project (like all of the residents of the City of Marina, the residents of the City of Salinas, and the residents of North County have) to offset seawater pollution in the 180 and 400 foot aquifers that are their identified public potable/drinking water sources? Can CalAm produce the cancelled checks that it has written to pay for these Salinas Valley publicly funded water projects? Show them to the public. Prove that CalAm is not just trying to steal groundwater that residents of the Salinas Valley and the City of Marina have paid to protect for decades. And, please CalAm paid PR people, please produce and show to the public your hard copies of those legal, recorded deeds and title documents that grant CalAm the property rights to pump groundwater away from innocent landowners and taxpayers who have paid for decades to protect the fresh water aquifers of Monterey County. And do it BEFORE the next edition of the Weekly is published, so that you can prove to the Weekly's readers that CalAm is not just a morally bankrupt corporate gangster trying to trade its' illegal theft of Carmel River water for the even greater theft of groundwater from the innocent residents and landowners of the Salinas Valley and the City of Marina. And, in this instance, "alternative facts" are probably not acceptable to the ratepayers whose water bills you will double in the next 60 days.

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