Keith Van Der Maaten, General Manager
Marina Coast Water District
On August 15, 2019, the Marina Coast Water District (MCWD) filed a lawsuit against the County of Monterey and Cal Am in Monterey Superior Court seeking a writ of mandate and injunctive relief to restrain the construction of Cal Am's desal plant until the County complies with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the Water Code, and State Planning and Zoning law. The lawsuit was filed in response to the Monterey County Board of Supervisors' July 15, 2019 approval of a use permit for the desal plant before the County completed the required environmental review and before Cal-Am demonstrated it had water rights or permits for the slant wells that are the only proposed water source for desal plant.
"We have filed this suit to ensure the project doesn't move forward until all impacts, water rights, mitigations, and alternatives can be evaluated using the most current information," explained Keith Van Der Maaten, General Manager of MCWD. "We need to find the best solution for the entire region."
On July 15, after hearing appeals by MCWD and Public Water Now from the Planning Commission's narrow 6-4 vote to approve Cal-Am's desal plant, the Board of Supervisors approved Cal Am's desal plant by a narrow 3-to-2 margin, allowing Cal Am to proceed with construction of the desal plant.
MCWD's appeal provided detailed comments from recognized experts explaining that the Board must perform supplemental environmental review to evaluate new information that shows the groundwater impacts from Cal Am's desal project would be substantially more severe than those analyzed in the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) that was previously certified by the CPUC. MCWD also explained that State law required the County to consider viable alternatives to Cal Am's desal project that were not evaluated in the EIR, including the expansion of the Pure Water Monterey (PWM) project. The PWM expansion alternative could provide water in time to meet the CDO deadline and a surplus for future growth for the Monterey Peninsula at a much lower cost to Cal-Am's ratepayers. It also avoids the significant environmental impacts caused by Cal Am's desal project.
"It is noteworthy that Supervisors Adams and Parker voted against the approval of the permit requested by Cal Am. These two supervisors represent the Peninsula and Marina/Ord Communities that will be directly impacted by this desal plant. Unfortunately, Salinas Valley Supervisors Alejo, Lopez and Phillips appeared to be more interested in rushing to a decision and disregarding information that CEQA requires them to consider." commented Dr. Tom Moore, President of the Board at Marina Coast.
MCWD has long contested the project over concerns that the project threatens the groundwater supply for residents in Marina and the Ord communities. The Cal Am Desal Project plans to draw 16,000 acre-feet a year from the Salinas Valley Groundwater Basin, which has already been designated as critically over-drafted by the State Department of Water Resources. Cal Am has no water rights to this water.
"This project's slant wells will not pump seawater from the ocean. They will pump groundwater directly from the Salinas Valley Groundwater Basin", said Keith Van Der Maaten. "It will pump from an aquifer that we know contains groundwater that is recharging the basin for drinking water purposes and acting as a barrier to prevent further seawater intrusion. The project would remove the groundwater we depend on and replace it with seawater, which would be a disaster for Marina."
"Public Water Now strongly supports MCWD in this suit," said PWN Director Melodie Chrislock. "The Peninsula can't afford and does not need Cal Am's desal. The Pure Water Monterey expansion gives us the water we need for growth at a fraction of the cost. Economically and environmentally the PWM expansion is the better project. Over the next 30 years, this desal project would cost Peninsula ratepayers $1.2 billion, whereas the Pure Water Monterey Expansion would cost $175 million. Cal Am's desal is a billion-dollar rip off of Peninsula ratepayers. It's just about profit for Cal Am."
For current information on the RUWAP Recycled Water Pipeline and Blackhorse Reservoir, visit RUWAP.info