Deep Water

Gary Petersen of the Salinas Valley’s groundwater sustainability agency says solar power plants could be an option on farms with fallowed land.

California was the last Western state to pass legislation regulating groundwater: the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014 arrived after more than a century of development, intensive agriculture, bouts of drought and the looming threat that our aquifers will dry up.

But the details of who would get to pump what – and the financial cost of achieving groundwater sustainability – are only now becoming clear. Agencies at the local level, like the Salinas Valley Groundwater Basin Sustainability Agency, are finalizing the details in the coming months.

“We need to have a generally completed plan by September,” says Gary Peterson, the agency’s general manager. He and his staff are collecting comments from members of the public, which will be incorporated into the plan. A final version must be submitted to state water authorities by Jan. 31, 2020.

“Everyone is going to have to pay something.”

To meet the deadline, the agency has published a draft of one of the key pieces of the plan, known as Chapter 9. It is important because it describes possible water infrastructure projects and whom to charge for their cost. There are also proposals on how to get farmers to retire some agricultural land in the Salinas Valley with the help of financial incentives.

“Chapter 9 is where it all comes together,” hydrogeologist Derrik Williams said in a presentation to the agency’s board on Aug. 8. “It will help us to show the [California Department of Water Resources] that we have a complete toolbox… to achieve sustainability.”

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The plan ranks projects according to how cost-effective they are, with the eradication of invasive species topping the list. Other “priority” investments include upgrading the Castroville Seawater Intrusion Project and the Pure Water Monterey regional wastewater recycling program.

A relatively expensive item on the list is the construction of a barrier to stop the intrusion of seawater into the Salinas Valley Basin. It will involve the construction of pumps along an 8.5-mile stretch between Castroville and Marina. “We need a definitive fix [to seawater intrusion],” Williams said. “This is part of achieving sustainability.” He added that the brackish water extracted by the pumps could form the supply for a new desalination plant.

At the Aug. 8 meeting, Bill Lipe, a farmer representing the upper Salinas Valley on the agency’s board, asked about the cost to farmers, saying he wanted to ensure an equitable burden.

“Everyone in the Valley is going to have to pay something,” Williams responded. “But some will have to pay more.”

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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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