Supply and Demand

Dave Stoldt says that water recycling, like desalination, would provide a regional water supply that can withstand a drought.

The Monterey Peninsula has gotten so good at conserving water that there is no need to build a costly desalination plant for decades – even if the region experiences unprecedented growth – according to a report from the top executive at the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District.

Dave Stoldt presented his conclusions to the district board Sept. 16, saying the region can meet all imaginable water needs until at least 2043 by ramping up the recycling of wastewater, an option that would be much cheaper than desalination.

But the choice between recycling and desalination does not belong to local ratepayers, nor does it entirely belong to the local utility, California American Water. Authority over the region’s water future rests primarily with a lineup of state agencies, and nearly all of them have issued approvals to Cal Am’s proposed $329 million desalination facility.

Critics, who say there is still time to ditch desal, praised Stoldt’s report as a “game-changer.” Allies of Cal Am, primarily from hotels and real estate, also saw it as significant, judging by their massive turnout at the Sept. 16 board meeting. Some called the timing of the report “suspicious” given approaching desal deadlines and others accused Stoldt of making unfounded assumptions.

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But what Stoldt said wasn’t new. His report pointed out that water demand is now 20-percent less than what Cal Am originally assumed, which means that need could be met by expanding the regional water recycling program.

“I have always stated the expansion would be sufficient,” Stoldt says. “But others have said the expansion wouldn’t meet the region’s long-term needs. My chair simply wanted basic facts.”

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Asaf Shalev is a staff writer at the Monterey County Weekly. He covers higher education, the military, the environment, public lands and the geographic areas of Seaside, Monterey, Sand City, Big Sur and Carmel Valley.

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