Four agencies voice reservations over Cal-Am plan to draft from Salinas Basin
California American Water, water purveyor for a great part of the Peninsula, has submitted to the California Public Utilities Commission draft plans for a desalination plant in north Marina, which would include extracting feedwater for the plant from the Salinas Basin. As presented, Cal-Am’s plan (dubbed the Monterey Peninsula Water Supply Project or MPWSP) would result in the lowering of groundwater levels within a radius of about two miles from the Marina plant, an area which is already experiencing seawater intrusion. The “shallow aquifer,” they state, is their preferred source but they want to retain the right to use water from the deeper aquifer, referred to as the 180-foot aquifer.
The State Water Resources Control Board was asked to help the California PUC determine whether or not Cal Am has the legal right to do so, considering the requirement to “do no injury” to other users in the Salinas Basin, which Cal Am would have to prove it would not do before receiving PUC approvals. In a draft analysis submitted to the PUC on Dec. 21, the State Water Resources Control Board says it can’t come to a conclusion yet because of too many assumptions that need to be proven by Cal Am.
The Monterey Peninsula Water Management District board has examined the draft plans and in a unanimous vote on Dec. 17, declared that it is in the best interest of Monterey Peninsula water users to “develop a parallel process to advance or qualify an alternative water supply project whose water source is not within the Salinas Valley groundwater basin.” It is therefore apparent that Peninsula water regulators are also uncomfortable with the Cal Am project as drafted.
Even more concerned are the Monterey County Farm Bureau and the Salinas Valley Water Coalition. “While it is likely the shallower wells … will not adversely impact the basin, at this stage we simply do not know,” said Norm Groot and Nancy Isakson, representatives of the two organizations in a guest commentary. They further state that significant and longer-term tests are needed to determine whether there would be an adverse effect on the deeper aquifer (at 180 feet) on which the $3 billion a year Salinas Valley agricultural industry depend. The tests will not be completed for two to three years. Unless, and until, these items are completed, the farm bureau and the coalition will not be able to “support” Cal Am’s proposed pumping in the shallow aquifer.
Cal Am has stated in its plan that if the data gathered from the test well establishes the shallow aquifer is not a viable source for its proposed desalination plant, but the 180-foot aquifer is, it will then pump from the 180-foot aquifer.
“We know that we cannot, and do not, support Cal Am pumping any water from the 180-foot aquifer of the Salinas Valley groundwater basin for use in Cal Am’s proposed project, because the utility does not have the water rights to do so and because of the potential to exacerbate the existing seawater intrusion problem,” say the two agriculture organizations in their commentary.
And Salinas Valley water users would likely sue to get it straightened out, a process they point out that could take as long as 10 years. Water users on the Peninsula do not have 10 years.
Seawater intrusion as a result of pumping in Salinas Valley’s 180-foot aquifer was documented as long ago as the 1940s. Before that, groundwater flowed out into Monterey Bay to discharge zones in the submarine canyon. Seawater was prevented from flowing inland because of the higher pressure of the groundwater flowing out. But increased pumping has resulted in groundwater now flowing northeastward. The Monterey County Water Resources Agency estimates that seawater has intruded into the 180-foot aquifer as much as five miles inland, almost reaching North Davis Road in Salinas, resulting in serious degradation of groundwater supplies. Some urban and agricultural wells have even been abandoned or destroyed as a result of this seawater intrusion.
Ten years ago, Salinas Valley voters established the Salinas Valley Water Project in order to stop seawater intrusion, balance the Basin and provide an adequate water supply to meet the Basin’s needs. They agreed to fund it with an assessment zone, which totals about $3 million a year. County Supervisors adopted an ordinance assuring water supply through the year 2030 in return for landowner support of assessments. “The communities and ratepayers of the Salinas Valley have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to build two reservoirs, as well as the Castroville Seawater Intrusion Project, the Salinas Valley Reclamation Project and the Salinas Valley Water Project, to solve the basin’s water problems,” Isakson pointed out.
The Castroville project (CSIP) distributes recycled water to agricultural users in the Salinas Valley area in an attempt to reduce the pressure to pump by providing groundwater recharge. Recycled water is a portion of the area-wide water solution, suggested by the Monterey Regional Water Pollution Control Agency, which proposes a tertiary treatment plant be established to treat wastewater and inject in to the Seaside Aquifer to augment Peninsula water supply.
In 2004, Cal-Am proposed the Coastal Water Project to replace existing water supplies which it will not be able to use after Jan. 1, 2017, due to a cease and desist order issued by the State Water Resources Control Board to end overpumping of the Carmel River and the Seaside Groundwater Basin to supply Peninsula water needs. Existing intakes at the Moss Landing power plant were to draw source water and a new desalination plant was to be built at Moss Landing. A draft EIR was issued in January 2009 was issued for the Coastal Water Project, the North Marina Project and the Monterey Regional Water Supply Project. The final EIR was certified in December 2009 and a year later the PUC approved implementation of the Regional Project. But in January 2012 Cal Am withdrew its support for the Regional Project after difficulties with Marina Coast Water District and the Monterey County Water Resources Agency, and began proceedings for its own project, the MPWSP.
Cal Am seeks to sink eight 750-foot-long slant wells, which would extend offshore some 200 feet into Monterey Bay, wells that would draw 22 million gallons of water per day and produce 9 million gallons of desalinated water per day. Any excess desalinated water, they say, would be returned to the aquifer to recharge it. Currently, 50 percent of groundwater recharge in the area occurs due to infiltration along the Salinas River and tributaries. Another 40 percent comes from irrigation return water and the remaining 10 percent is due to precipitation, subsurface inflow … and seawater intrusion.
Pacific Grove’s Small Water Projects (http://www.cedarstreettimes.com/2012/11/23/small-water-projects-for-pacific-grove/) may provide some relief for Pacific Grove only, but will not provide any new water. Given the time constraints of the Cease and Desist Order, needed tests to prove that Cal Am’s project will not injure the rights of water users in the Salinas Valley will not provide answers in time to meet the “water fall” or “water cliff,” of January 1, 2017. Unless politicians and water purveyors can agree on an answer, water users on the Monterey Peninsula face rationing of 35 gallons per person per day.