Setback For Cal Am's Desal Plant

Oct 29, 2019

California American Water’s plan to build a desalination plant has experienced a major setback. A staff report from the California Coastal Commission recommends that commissioners deny a necessary permit for the project.

The permit is needed for Cal Am to drill slant wells along the coast in Marina. These wells would capture water for the proposed desal plant, which aims to supply the water to the Monterey Peninsula. According to Cal Am's Environmental Impact Report, it would ultimately be about 95% seawater and the rest brackish water. But according to the Marina Coast Water District, the project would pump groundwater from the Salinas Valley Groundwater Basin, not seawater from the ocean. 

Cal Am is under orders from the State Water Resources Control Board to reduce taking water from the Carmel River by 70 percent before the end of 2021.

Cal Am Spokesperson Catherine Stedman says if the permit is denied, it means Cal Am would not be able to comply with that order.

“We would be without an adequate water supply, unable to meet peak demand. Unable to supply customers with enough water to meet the community's need in a multiple drought year scenario,” said Stedman.

Staff of the Coastal Commission released the report Monday. It points out environmental concerns, including potential damage to coastal dunes, which provide habitat for sensitive species. The report also notes that an expansion of the new Pure Water Monterey water recycling plant could be an alternative to the desal plant. 

Melodie Chrislock supports the expansion of Pure Water Monterey as an alternative to the desal plant. She says recycled water is cheaper and more environmentally friendly. She’s with Public Water Now, a group that hopes to change Monterey Peninsula's water supplier from Cal Am, a private company, to public ownership, if feasible.

“That project has no coastal impact because it doesn't do anything on the coast. It's inland by the landfill,” Chrislock said.

The Coastal Commission will hear the slant well application on November 14th in Half Moon Bay. The meeting begins at 9 a.m. A livestream of the meeting will be available at Marina City Hall.

Cal Am is a supporter of KAZU.