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Central Coast's Water Challenges And Solutions On Tap At Forum

Erika Mahoney

Friday policy makers and researchers will take a deep dive into the water challenges and solutions on the Central Coast at New Frontiers Water Forum in Seaside. 

For drinking water solutions, this region is largely looking to recycled water and desalination.   As for challenges, there are many, but one lies in the structure of the state water system. 

I recently spoke with David Sedlak. He’s co-director of the Water Center at UC Berkeley and a keynote speaker at Friday’s event.  He started by explaining how the Central Coast does, or rather doesn’t, fit in to the state water system.

David Sedlak (DS): Most cities in California rely upon imported water coming from long distances.  So if you are in San Francisco, you’re getting water from the Hetch Hetchy system, which is near Yosemite Park.  If you are in Los Angeles, you might be getting some of your water from as far away as the Rocky Mountains.  But in Monterey and Central Coast, there isn’t such a connection to one of these systems that imports water from long distances.  And so regions of the state that don’t have such an imported water system are a little bit handicapped because they have to make due with water that falls within their watershed.   The Central Coast area is really on its own in terms of managing its own water supply.

KA: For areas, like where we are in the Monterey Bay Area, when we talk about desalination and water reuse; were talking expensive water.  Is there a way around expensive water for communities like this that need to create their own source?

DS: Well certainly before we go an invest in these kinds of water systems, we have to make sure that our cities are using water efficiently.  And I think that much of the central coast has done a pretty good job in term of becoming efficient.  And so after efficiency, you can look at other ways of augmenting the water supply, for example, doing a better job of capturing the rainfall that does fall in the watershed, and making sure that you can get it back in the ground and use it as groundwater in dry years.  And all of those things are happening in the Central Coast and any of that that we can do will decrease the need for these expensive water programs.  But ultimately, when people look towards water security, which means the ability to ride out extended droughts, things like water recycling and desalination start to look very attractive because they are drought proof.  And you don’t start to run into this concern that  well if the drought lasts one more year, we are in real trouble because they can just provide a supply of water that won’t be effected as much by an extended drought like the one we just came out of.

KA: We are also seeing these systems built or considered in places that are part of the statewide system.  So why are we thinking of these ideas now?

DS: One of the reasons why are moving to these ideas is the technology is getting better and better and the cities that pioneered water recycling and desalination are showing what’s possible.

Is this just part of the future for all of California?

Do you see desalination and water reuse increasingly becoming necessary for life in California?

DS: Water reuse and desalination are both relatively expensive, and relatively energy intensive when we compare them to the imported water systems that we use.  And so, when we build these systems we do it because we feel like we can’t rely on the imported water system.  And I think one of the large discussions that is happening in the state is how do we allocate our fresh water between cities and agriculture?  Because when we look statewide, much more of our fresh water is used for growing food than it is for providing drinking water.

KA: That discussion sounds like the beginning of a fight.

DS: So I think historically cities and growers have been hesitant to have a fight about water allocation, practically because the growers have their water rights.  So what we are seeing with water recycling and seawater desalination, is that cities where people are willing to pay for a lot of water, people are investing in.

David Sedlak is a professor at UC Berkeley and keynote speaker at Friday’s New Frontiers Water Forum in Seaside.  The daylong forum is sold out. 

The event is organized by the Grower Shipper Association Foundation and Cal State Monterey Bay, KAZU’s parent institution.