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Cal Am Desal Plant Moves Forward, Marina Pushes Back

California American Water is moving closer to building a desalination plant on the coast in Marina. This week, the California Public Utilities Commission said the project can move forward. 

The plant would help solve the Monterey Peninsula’s water supply problem.  But Marina officials say it will hurt their community. 

The proposed desalination plant will get water through a series of slant wells drilled at an angle under a beach in Marina. The water will be treated at the proposed plant. Then it will be transferred through a pipeline to serve Cal Am’s Monterey Peninsula customers.

At issue for Marina is the water the slant wells will be sucking up. 

Cal Am’s Environmental Impact Report says it will ultimately be 95% seawater and the rest brackish water.  But the Marina Coast Water District’s own research shows something else.

“We're very concerned with it because the way it is being envisioned is that it will actually not be an ocean desal plant,” says Keith Van Der Maaten, Marina Coast Water District’s General Manager.  “It will be a plant that has wells that go into the groundwater right near the ocean and then it'll pump so much water that it will bring ocean water in under the groundwater surface. So it essentially is causing additional seawater intrusion and capturing seawater inland.”

In effect, he says it will destroy the groundwater supply Marina residents rely on. 

Marina does not get its water from Cal Am, yet Mayor Bruce Delgado believes his city will be shouldering much of the burden for this new water supply.

“Marina is probably the most working class and definitely the most diverse ethnically speaking town in this area.   We won't get a drop of the water but our more affluent neighbors to the south will get the water on our expense, so to me, that is classic environmental injustice,” says Delgado.

Neither the City nor the Water District want to have sue to stop the desal plant. Instead they’re pushing another idea: expand the water recycling plant known as Pure Water Monterey. 

That plant is currently under construction right now near the landfill in Marina. 

“The way we've designed it is to allow it to expand. So to be as efficient as possible to expand in the future at some point,” says Paul Sciuto, General Manager of Monterey One Water, which will operate the plant.

The water recycling plant already is one piece of a three-pronged solution to the Monterey Peninsula’s water supply problem. The so-called Water Supply Project also includes capturing heavy winter flows off the Carmel River and the planned desalination plant.

Together the three will produce enough water to stop Cal Am from taking too much water off the Carmel River. The state ordered it to drastically cut back more than two decades ago. 

The Water Supply Project will also meet the Peninsula’s projected future water needs. But Sciuto says expanding the water recycling would only meet current demand.

“I don't see it as an alternative to the desal plant and the reason being is it truly depends on the demands of the community,” Sciuto says.

Even if an expansion doesn’t eliminate the need for a desalination plant, Marina Coast Water District’s Keith Van Der Maaten says it does buy some time.

“In that time we could look at a desal project that doesn't have the same concerns cause there are different ways to construct this where you wouldn't be damaging the groundwater in the way this is proposed,” says Van Der Maaten.

Any expansion of water recycling would require approval from the California Public Utilities Commission. The CPUC has received a proposal and will hear more about it on Wednesday, August 22. That’s when the District and the City of Marina will get to share their concerns during a hearing in San Francisco.   

When asked about Marina’s worries, Cal Am spokesperson Catherine Steadman stands by the project’s Environmental Impact Report, or EIR.    

“We have stated, and it's written in the EIR, that if there is harm to any other pumpers in the basin that we will remediate that. But there's no evidence that our project will result in an increase taking of groundwater overtime. You know, I think your question maybe speaks to a scenario that is not at all likely,” she says.

The California Public Utilities Commission is also standing behind Cal Am’s EIR. This week it proposed approving the project. Making that approval final is expected to happen during CPUC meeting on Thursday, September 13.

Both Monterey One Water and California American Water support KAZU. Underwriters do not affect our journalism.

Krista joined KAZU in 2007. She is an award winning journalist with more than a decade of broadcast experience. Her stories have won regional Edward R. Murrow Awards and honors from the Northern California Radio and Television News Directors Association. Prior to working at KAZU, Krista reported in Sacramento for Capital Public Radio and at television stations in Iowa. Like KAZU listeners, Krista appreciates the in-depth, long form stories that are unique to public radio. She's pleased to continue that tradition in the Monterey Bay Area.
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