For the first time, the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District has formally expressed opposition to the California American Water desalination project, backing the proposed Pure Water Monterey recycled water project expansion instead as a replacement and not just a backup.
At the same time, the water district took another step toward a potential acquisition of Cal Am’s Monterey water system with the release of a draft environmental impact report on the proposed public buyout effort.
In a split vote, the water district board on Monday approved a letter to Coastal Commission executive director John Ainsworth calling for the commission to deny Cal Am’s desal permit bid, arguing that the Pure Water Monterey expansion is a “feasible alternative” to desal that could produce enough water to meet the Carmel River pumping cutback order based on the district’s own analysis at lower cost and less environmental impact.
Previously, the district had officially considered the proposed recycled water expansion a backup in case Cal Am’s desal project faltered, though the district board had previously adopted a new Peninsula water supply and demand analysis that argued the 2,250-acre-foot expansion would provide enough water for the Peninsula for about 30 years without desal.
The district’s letter also suggested desal could be considered later, “somewhere down the road when additional supplies appear to be required.”
The board’s narrow 4-3 vote in support of the letter was backed by board chairman Alvin Edwards and board members George Riley, Molly Evans and Supervisor Mary Adams, while board members Jeanne Byrne, Gary Hoffmann and Carmel Mayor Dave Potter voted against.
The letter was approved about two months before Cal Am’s desal project is set to go back before the Coastal Commission during its Aug. 12-14 session, which will be held remotely, nine months after the commission agreed with staff to postpone a decision on the desal project permit and related appeal by the city of Marina of a different desal permit approved by the Board of Supervisors last year.
In response to the water district letter, Cal Am spokeswoman Catherine Stedman said the desal project is the “only option on the table that is capable of meeting the terms of the (Carmel River cutback order) and supplying our community with a long-term sustainable water source that is capable of supporting affordable housing, economic recovery and restoring the Carmel River and the Seaside basin.”
Stedman reiterated the company’s argument that the district’s water demand and supply analysis “grossly underestimates” the local water need, and noted that the main Pure Water Monterey project still hasn’t proved it can reach its promised full capacity while cost and performance issues remain, and the proposed expansion has challenges with source water availability and other issues.
Monterey One Water officials have said the main recycled water project,…