Piping In

The new pipeline, which is being installed by Cal Am, is estimated to be completed by late February. Water on this stretch of pipeline has historically flowed north, but can flow in either direction.

Maybe you’ve been wondering why Gen. Jim Moore Boulevard is being torn up right now, and what’s up with the massive pipe sections being staged on its median. The answer to both of those questions is at least in part because as of Dec. 31, 2021, California American Water finally had to scale back its pumping of the Carmel River to its legal limit of 3,376 acre-feet annually.

There are already two pipelines under the road – both projects of Marina Coast Water District, another utility – one of which is currently being used to pipe water from the Pure Water Monterey project south into the Cal Am system. But in previous years, water was moving north in that pipeline, carrying excess winter flows from the Carmel River to be injected into the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District’s aquifer storage and recovery wells in Seaside.

Now that Cal Am has no choice but to pump water south to meet demand, excess winter flows from the Carmel River – should they happen again this year – will have to flow out to sea until a parallel pipeline is built on Gen. Jim Moore Boulevard. This essentially means that, for the time being, a potential boost to the local water supply is being squandered.

And until the Pure Water Monterey expansion comes online in about three years, there’s very little wiggle room. Even with conservation and maximizing the injections into storage, water rationing on the Monterey Peninsula remains a distinct possibility.

“For the next three years, it’s clearly crucial to have the operational flexibility of moving water in both directions, because the overall system depends on moving Pure Water Monterey water into the system south, but our safety net is moving water north in winter for storage in the ground,” says Dave Stoldt, general manager for MPWMD. “It is very tight, we’re on a knife’s edge.”

The new pipeline going in will create that flexibility. It is estimated to be completed by late February. Assuming it stays on schedule, Stoldt says it will only be about six weeks lost for potential injections into the water district’s storage wells.

But the water year has been good thus far: Stoldt says they’ve injected 71 acre-feet of excess winter flow water into the wells, more than the entire previous water year.

As for why it’s taken so long to get the pipeline project started – the Dec. 31 deadline has long been known – Cal Am engineer Tim O’Halloran says it’s largely due to supply chain issues. “It’s been a tough year to construct projects like this,” he says. “Once we got approval we ordered our materials, and it took forever to get the pipe.”

But the pipes are here, and are going into the ground, and constitute a paradigm shift for the Monterey Peninsula’s water supply: This year, for the first time, the Carmel River will no longer be the Peninsula’s primary water source.

And that also means that, for the first time, water coming out of the tap in, say, Pacific Grove, is probably coming from Seaside.

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