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Water Woes: Deepwater Sees Solution Offshore

Vinnee Tong

If the Monterey Peninsula doesn’t have a solution to its water supply problem by 2017, severe rationing kicks in. California American Water’s project is moving forward, but there are two other projects, including one considered as the back-up plan to Cal-Am’s.

Inventor and entrepreneur Brent Constantz stands at the heart of the Monterey Bay, where the land slopes gently inward from both sides and meets to make a tiny V.  “Well, we’re out near the Moss Landing harbor mouth, and you can hear the beacon blowing out there,” said Consantz.  It’s a quick stroll from the office of his latest venture, DeepwaterDesal, a start-up with plans to build a desalination plant .  Constantz says DeepwaterDesal’s location is key.   He’s drawn here by the same feature that attracts marine researchers.  “This is one of the rare places in the world where you can get into the deep sea so quickly,” said Constantz.   

That’s because Moss Landing is near an ocean canyon deeper than the Grand Canyon. Constantz wants to use that depth to Deepwater’s advantage, and extract water from one of the purest sources around.  He plans to use an existing pipeline that back in the 1940s used to carry diesel oil to what is now the Dynegy Power Plant.  The pipeline has sat unused for decades.  Now Constantz wants it to bring seawater to shore where Deepwater plans to build a desal plant next to the power plant.  “Something people don’t commonly appreciate is the purest water in the world, although it’s salty, is deep seawater. Often it hasn’t seen the surface in 10,000 years,” said Constantz.

About two years ago, Deepwater entered the picture in the search for a solution to the Monterey Peninsula’s Water Supply problem.  The state has ordered California American Water, the water provider on the Peninsula, to stop over-pumping water from the Carmel River.  If Cal-Am doesn’t implement a solution by 2017, Peninsula residents and businesses will face severe rationing.  “There would have to be some very hard decisions made,” said Dave Stoldt, General Manager of the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District.   He says the rationing would leave just enough water to address people’s basic health and safety needs, but not much else.  “When you look at hospitality here on the peninsula, which is a $2 billion a year business serving you know 22,000 jobs in the county, you will find that the trade-off between economic impacts,  and the health and safety impacts becomes one that is very muddled.  And I do not believe that we can ration ourselves down to this level,” said Stoldt.

The Monterey Peninsula Water Management District has joined the Peninsula Mayors in offering its conditional support to the Cal-Am Project.  But the agency has also offered DeepwaterDesal $1-million  over two years to help with its environmental impact report (EIR), and is endorsing this project as a back-up to Cal-Am’s.   Though Brent Constantz is quick to point out, his plans are much bigger than just being a back-up. DeepwaterDesal plans to produce 25-million gallons of water per day. That’s more than double what Cal-Am’s project will produce. “Cal Am’s project is just a small project within our territory. Our territory is from Santa Cruz to Monterey. We’re building a much larger plant to service many more people,” said Constantz.  This private company’s ultimate goal is to become a publicly owned utility that serves the entire Monterey Bay Area, with the potential of Cal-Am becoming one of its customers.  “When or if the Cal Am project fails again, instead of just having one sole project and having no water, they can always buy water from us,” said Constantz.

The size of the project makes it more than a stop-gap says David ArmanascoDeepwater’s head of government and public relations. “This issue is a really large issue, and the important thing here is that DeepwaterDesal is taking much more of a long range view of water needs in the region, not just simply trying to put a band aid on one particular  area, but how we will be dealing with water in the long term future,” said Armanasco. 

Deepwater Desal aims to be fully operational by the end of 2016, before the deadline of the Cease and Desist Order. So it’s moving forward on several fronts.  It has signed a deal with the city of Salinas to buy power at a discounted rate, and plans to start its EIR in May.  But Deepwater is not as far along as Cal-Am. It hasn’t started that EIR, still faces a long permitting process, and needs customers.

Follow the rest of this series on the Monterey Peninsula’s Water Supply problem.  Click for our stories on  the Cal-Am Water Supply Project and the People's Moss Landing Desalination Project.

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