A “Twilight Zone” sea creature 🦑 and water recycling in Monterey
Welcome to KAZU's weekly news roundup for 12/10/21. Here you'll find the top local stories of the week and a few national stories from NPR.
When you turn on the faucet, it’s easy not to think about where the water comes from. On the Monterey Peninsula, a third of that water comes from recycled, purified wastewater. Despite the “yuck” factor, it’s a trend that communities across California are beginning to embrace as climate change worsens the drought and water supplies dwindle. Monterey’s purification plant is the first of its kind in Northern California. KAZU’s Suzanne Saunders toured the facility, which is poised to expand. Her story explains the complex process of turning sewage into drinking water and looks into whether the expansion could solve the area’s water shortage crisis. Find Suzanne’s story here.
The future of who controls the Peninsula’s water system is as muddy as ever. The public buyout of Cal Am, the area’s private water system, hit a wall this week and will likely head to court. In a surprise vote Monday night, a local watchdog group named LAFCO (Local Agency Formation Commission) halted the voter-supported move for public ownership. The agency went against its own staff’s recommendation and denied the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District the authority it needs to move forward.
Monterey Peninsula voters approved Measure J in 2018. It required the district to conduct feasibility studies on all aspects of a public buyout and the effect on ratepayers. Monday night’s 5-2 vote is a stunning blow to district supporters.
But water fights are never over. District General Manager Dave Stoldt confirmed in an email to KAZU that the decision will likely be litigated. Consultants presented the case that a public takeover of the Peninsula water system would be economically feasible.
But Cal Am lawyer George Soneff argued that if the buyout survived lengthy court battles over eminent domain, taxpayers would be on the hook for $700 million of new debt and that water rates would surely rise.
LAFCO is set to meet again in January. In explaining their “no” votes, commissioners expressed concern that special districts would lose property tax revenue. Others noted the harm to five satellite communities, including Chualar and Corral de Tierra, which would be left out of the new service area.
Better late than never — crab fishing is officially open in the Monterey Bay region. In recent years, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has pushed the crab fishing season past its typical Nov. 15 start date. The reason? An uptick in whale entanglements due to “the blob” — a mass of warm water that kept whales lingering in Monterey Bay for longer than usual in the mid-2010s. When crab fishermen deployed their traps in those years, whales hadn’t begun their migration yet and were feeding closer to shore. In 2015, NOAA reported a record-breaking 53 whale entanglements along the West Coast. That record was broken in 2016 with another 55 entanglements.
Since then, efforts to prevent whale entanglements havehas caused CDFW to proceed with caution. Ryan Bartling, a spokesperson for CDFW, said the delay this year is normal. Humpbacks are now starting to move on from the Monterey Bay area, so the risk of entanglements is lower. Still, there are current restrictions on how deep crab fishermen can drop their pots, “just to give (the whales) a little more time to migrate and still provide some fishing opportunity,” Bartling said.
Recreational crab fishing opened this morning. Commercial fishers can drop their pots on Dec. 13, and by Dec. 16, can pull up their traps and bring fresh crabs to market. Visit CDFW's Whale Safe Fisheries page for more information on efforts to curb whale entanglements.
An extremely rare fish that can see through its forehead has been spotted in the Monterey Bay. Scientists from the Monterey Bay Aquarium found it last week while using a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), essentially an underwater robot, out at sea. They say the fish is “incredibly elusive” and “bizarre.” At just six inches long, the barreleye fish lives at depths of 2,000 to 2,6000 feet. That’s called the ocean’s “twilight zone.” The Aquarium is preparing for a new deep sea exhibit called Into the Deep: Exploring Our Undiscovered Ocean. Although the barreleye fish won’t be part of the show, creatures including sea angels and Japanese spider crabs will be spotlighted. It opens next April.
Fire is in the forecast for Wilder Ranch State Park. But don’t worry, it’s the good kind. Tim Hyland, the senior environmental scientist for California State Parks in Santa Cruz, said the conditions are “both wet enough and dry enough” — the safest time for prescribed fires.
“Fire shapes the vegetation of these landscapes,” he said. “If it’s excluded, then we get fuel built up, and that’s when we have these catastrophic hard-to-control fires.”
The burn should reduce understory vegetation that acts like fuel in a wildfire. But regular, low-intensity burns also help return the land to a more natural state. The burn is in a 280-acre area of the state park, through coastal redwoods and oak woodlands, where fires haven’t occurred in about 150 years. Hyland said the understory would have naturally burned there about every seven to 12 years.
Prescribed fire operations will take place between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. until Dec. 12. The park remains mostly open to visitors, but parts of some trails are closed. Visit the Wilder Ranch State Park website for more information.
The cooler temperatures are making it feel more like the holidays. It wouldn’t be December in Monterey without the lighted boat parade. This past Sunday, boats decorated in colorful lights put on a show. The tide was particularly low as families lined up the coastal rec trail and camped out on the harbors to enjoy the shimmering display. The Brighten The Harbor event, which is hosted by the Monterey Peninsula Yacht Club, has been running since the early 1990s.
Event organizer Joe Headley said it started as just a few sailors vying for bragging rights on the best decorations. When he took over in 2007, he saw an opportunity to connect locals with local businesses. The Sunday after Thanksgiving is one of the slower times of the year for waterfront businesses. By increasing the number of parade boats, he’s drawn community members down to Cannery Row to watch the show and then fill up the restaurants. The sailors' pay? Gift certificates to dinner.
The State of the Pandemic
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