Some Moss Landing residents say state and local agencies have left their small town high and dry while planning a seawater desalination plant-which is being proposed as a solution to the Monterey Peninsula''s water woes

At a public meeting on Monday, Oct. 7, Moss Landing residents criticized officials for leaving them out of talks to build the state''s largest desalination plant in their backyard.

"I''m really disappointed," said Chamber President Melanie Gideon. "This plan has a lot of advantages for the Peninsula but very few advantages for Moss Landing and North County." Moss Landing, Gideon said, is being treated as "an afterthought."

Assemblyman Fred Keeley, who is spearheading the project, sent a representative to the meeting but did not attend.

"This is only the beginning of the process, not the end," Keeley said in an interview Tuesday. "This is a plan for CalAm, and the water district and the community, including Moss Landing, to react to."

In August, the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) released "Plan B," the highly anticipated report on a new water supply for the Peninsula. The alternative to the proposed Carmel River dam (Plan A) would build the desalination plant at Moss Landing and a groundwater storage and recovery facility near Seaside.

However, CalAm has yet to withdraw its application to build the dam on the Carmel River. According to CalAm Vice President Steven Leonard, the water company is still reviewing Plan B.

Keeley had authored Assembly Bill 1182, directing the PUC to develop an alternative to the dam project, in 1998. His legislation required the PUC to recommend new water sources yielding 10,730 acre-feet a year-the amount that the state says California-American Water (CalAm) overdrafts from the Carmel River.

The PUC initially studied a Seaside-based desalination plan, Keeley said. But environmental concerns and the amount of water needed shifted the focus to Moss Landing, where the plant could take advantage of proximity to the Duke Energy power plant. "It really left the Moss Landing site as the only real option," Keeley says. "That''s why Plan B unfolded the way it did."

The desalination plant would produce about 9,430 acre-feet per year (3,072,774,930 gallons). The Seaside groundwater storage and recovery facility, called an injection well, would provide 1,300 acre-feet.

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And although Plan B will address only the Peninsula''s water needs, North County has its own water problems. Seawater intrusion and nitrate contamination continue to poison crops and the drinking water. Demand is too high.

Some county officials have suggested other entities seeking new water sources-such as North County-could tap into, and help finance, the Moss Landing plant.

At Monday night''s meeting, Curtis Weeks, the Monterey County Water Resource Agency''s general manager, said it would cost an additional $70 million to pipe water from the desalination plant into North County.

The Plan B study estimates total construction costs at about $176 million-higher than the costs projected in 1998 for a dam and reservoir project.

Desalination costs could drop if a deal could be made with Duke Energy to get power to the desalination plant at a discount. Such an arrangement is under discussion, Keeley said.

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