What’s new with the Coastal Water Project?
On December 17, 2009, The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) certified the 3,100 page Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) for the Coastal Water Project. Certification (finding the document adequate) was originally scheduled for January 2010, but the action was expedited to December presumably to enable local agencies to use the document for their actions. The Salinas Valley Agriculture Land Trust submitted a lengthy letter challenging the adequacy of the FEIR. Some key issues identified in the letter follow. The entire letter is posted on www.landwatch.org.
Lack of Compliance with Monterey County Code: No Alternative Water Supply
Monterey County has a requirement in its governing code that each desalination plant includes a contingency plan for an alternative source of water supply. This was not addressed by any of the three projects. The letter noted, “If that supply fails, either for a short term or for a long term, the community will not have a water supply.” This is critically important since operation of a desalination plant remains speculative, i.e., there are few if any large desalination plants in the U.S. that have operated successfully for a substantial period of time and all have encountered significant problems on start up.
Failure to Adequately Disclose Brine Disposal Impacts
The by-product of desalination is brine which is a concentrated salt solution requiring disposal. The Regional Project proposes to use the wastewater outfall owned by the Monterey Regional Water Pollution Control Agency (MRWPCA) for brine disposal into Monterey Bay. Questions regarding whether the outfall could accommodate the brine in addition to sewage from expected growth and stormwater runoff have not been fully addressed. Additionally, the impact of brine disposal within the Marine Sanctuary remains unresolved. Because the FEIR does not adequately address brine disposal and outfall capacity in the existing pipes, MRWPCA is preparing a new EIR on these issues.
The Regional Project Would Export Groundwater from the Salinas Valley Groundwater Basin (SVGB), Which is Prohibited by Law
The analysis of the export issue relies on the assumption that 85% of the source water would be seawater and 15% would be groundwater. Because the 15% would be used within Marina/Fort Ord which is part of the SVGB, the EIR contends the export question is moot. However, the 15%/85% ratio is only valid for the first 10 years according to an EIR Appendix . Extraction of groundwater could be as high as 40% in future years. With a 40% groundwater/60% seawater scenario, intake wells would have to pump 88,000 acre –feet (AF) to assure that the Monterey Peninsula receives the 8,800 AF needed to meet regulatory requirements. This scenario is simply not viable.
LandWatch expects to see more discussion of this issue as well as greater consideration of the use of slant wells which would extract water from the ocean rather than from groundwater. Because of the export issue, the Hybrid Regional Plan advocates the use of slant wells. This Plan is supported by LandWatch, the League of Women Voters of the Monterey Peninsula, the Carmel Valley Association, the Sierra Club and Prunedale Neighbors Group. To read more about the Hybrid Plan go to www.landwatch.org.
The EIR Discussion of Water Rights in Inadequate
The letter states, “Because the extracted water would be composed of both saltwater and groundwater, Cal-Am (under the North Marina project) or Monterey County (under the Regional Project) would be extracting groundwater from the overdrafted Salinas Valley Groundwater Basin. Those actions would represent an illegal appropriation of water…” because those entities do not have the rights to pump the groundwater.
The CPUC is expected to select a project in April 2010: the Cal-Am North Marina Project, the Cal-Am Moss Landing Project or the Regional Project proposed by local agencies. The local agencies including the Marina Coast Water District (MCWD) and Monterey County Water Resources Agency (MCWRA) may move ahead approving components of the Regional Project without further action by the CPUC. While the CPUC must still approve Cal-Am’s conveyance system from a Regional desalination facility to the Monterey Peninsula, major work on Regional Project components (wells, desalination plant) can move forward without CPUC action. Local agencies may wait to be assured that the CPUC will support rate increases to provide revenue to MCWD and MCWRA for construction of the Regional Project. However, the CPUC has generally approved Cal-Am’s requested rate increases for the Monterey Peninsula, and a water purchase agreement among local agencies and Cal-Am is expected soon.
California law permits water corporations to condemn property necessary for the construction and maintenance of its water systems (CA PUBLIC UTILITIES CODE). While this issue has not been discussed in the public arena, Cal-Am could pursue this option through the CPUC. That would mean that before or after construction of a regional project by local public agencies, Cal-Am could act to condemn facilities. That would mean that even though the Regional Project is proposed by local agencies, it could end up being owned by Cal-Am, a private corporation.