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With coastal commission approval, what’s next for Cal Am’s desalination plant?

A rendering of the proposed Cal Am desalination plant.
Courtesy of California American Water
A rendering of the proposed Cal Am desalination plant.

Two weeks ago the California Coastal Commission approved the much debated desalination plant proposed by California American Water. Despite the approval, it could be years before construction begins.

California American Water (Cal Am) scored a major win earlier this month after the California Coastal Commission approved a development permit for the company's proposed desalination plant.

The commission voted 8-2 in favor of the project at its Nov. 17 meeting, reversing a decision in 2020 that had denied the company's permit. The company first proposed the plant nearly a decade ago.

"We're really excited that we're finally at the point where we got past the coastal commission," said Josh Stratton, a spokesperson for Cal Am.

Supporters of the project say the desalination plant will help develop a secure water supply for the Monterey Peninsula, where water has been scarce for decades.

"We feel that we need reliable water," said Stratton. "And this is the only way that, right now, we can make sure we have drought-proof water supply."

With the commission's approval, Stratton says the project should be completed within five years. But opponents of the project say there are still a lot of requirements that Cal Am will have to meet before construction can begin.

"The Coastal Commission's decision was heavily conditioned," said Monterey Peninsula Water Management District general manager Dave Stoldt.

Stoldt says that includes obtaining even more permits and Cal Am dealing with potential lawsuits.

"So you wrap all those up together, that's about 27 different things that have to happen" before construction can begin, Stoldt said, which could cause delays.

While the coastal commission's approval was a significant step for Cal Am, it's far from the last regulatory hurdle facing the ever-contentious desalination plant.

Cal Am is one of KAZU's many business supporters.

Jonathan Linden was a reporter at 90.3 KAZU in Seaside, Calif. He served at the station from Oct. 2022 to July 2023.
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