Monterey County’s water woes have been sliced and diced by a ka-zillion petty quarrels: Valley versus Peninsula; steelhead versus lettuce. Can’t logic prevail?
Here are some thoughts.
Conservation first. The average American household uses and wastes about 100-120 gallons per person per day, with lawns and landscaping accounting for about a third. The average Peninsula household uses 60 gallons per person or about half the national average.
Roughly 90 percent of the county’s water isn’t used by homes at all, but to water crops. Growers will point to their increasing use of drip irrigation, but the fact is that drip irrigated strawberries and grapes use far more water than the apples and arid lands they displaced, and the footprint of irrigated agriculture has grown by 40 percent since 1990. Monterey County has the most creative growers in the world and they must find ways to reduce their demand and try to match municipal water conservation successes.
Second, we are awash in wastewater and should solve our pollution problem while creating new supply.
According to a state report, the lower Salinas has the highest percentage of toxic surface waters in California and our shallow groundwater supplies are so polluted by farm fertilizers that thousands of residents are drinking tainted water. Reasonably accessible wastewater includes storm and sewer water from Monterey and Salinas, agricultural processing water, and agricultural runoff. There is so much wastewater that if it was treated, the size of the proposed desal plant could be reduced by one-third, agriculture could be supplemented and we could create a reserve.
The proposed Pure Water Monterey project promises to do almost as much, but needs to be improved. Growers want water that is modestly treated and then diluted with heavily polluted Salinas River water, the mix barely meeting low agricultural source water standards. Growers call it recycled, but don’t drink it! The Peninsula wants water that is treated to a higher drinking water standard but is so desperate for a deal, the plan is to build essentially two separate treatment systems. Treatment to the safe drinking water standard is expensive but resets the water to the original clean-as-rainwater condition. All water should be treated to this high standard. The County Board of Supervisors and mayors will need to apply heavy but even-handed leadership to make such an agreement possible.
My organization, The Otter Project, angered local power brokers recently by winning court cases against the Monterey County Water Resource Agency and State Water Resources Control Board as we work toward exactly those solutions.
We should thank these people for their hard work, honor the agreement and fine tune a plan that offers equitable water supply solutions for all of us – people, otters, agriculture, environment, golf courses, everything.