The Monterey Peninsula and Water – Missed Opportunities
As you can see from my articles of the last several weeks, water has been an issue on the Monterey Peninsula for a long time now. There have been projects started and stopped, votes for and against water projects, and more than a few missed opportunities.
For instance, in 1991 the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District (MPWMD) started looking at the possibility of 10 different potential water supply projects – including a 3 million gallon per day desal plant and another dam on the Carmel River. In 1992 the MPWMD published the Near Term Desalination Project EIR to look at the environmental effects of the plant. This document would have put the plant in either Moss Landing, Marina, or Sand City and it was estimated that it would take five years to build the plant – the preferred location being in Sand City. But in 1993 the vote to authorize the desal plant lost at the polls 14,658 to 12,847, and the vote to fund the 24,000 acre foot Loa Padres Dam and Reservoir lost by 13,929 to 10,359.
Also in 1991 a group including Clint Eastwood proposed a 24,000 acre foot reservoir where his Tehama development is being built today. Similar to what the Water District is dong with its Aquifer Storage and Retrieval project, this “Canada Reservoir’ would be filled with water from the Carmel River during wet years when large amounts of water run out the mouth of the river and into the ocean. This would allow that water which was available in wet years to be stored in a reservoir for use in dryer years, and had a great deal of support – by everyone except the MPWMD of that day. After reviewing the water records though, I found that between 1900 and 2000, there were at least 18 flood events and wet years where such water could have been drawn from the river to be put into the reservoir.
The project was quite popular with many of the state and federal permitting agencies, and was pushed by Cal Am. The Monterey Peninsula Water Management District of the day – with different staff and General Manager – opposed the project as too expensive. The agency preferred the construction of a dam on the Carmel River instead. It turned out later that the cost proposals for the reservoir included both the costs for the reservoir and some Cal Am system upgrades. The estimates for the dam, however, was only a partial estimate for just the dam itself.
The idea of taking water from the river when flow was high and setting it aside for later use continued, however, and was incorporated in the MRWMD Aquifer Storage and Retrieval project. That project, built between and is designed to take 1,300 acre feet of water per year out of the river during high flow periods and inject it into the aquifer. That effectively makes the aquifer our reservoir, and to date that project has captured almost 9,000 acre feet of water.
Unfortunately, the Monterey Peninsula has never had a long term strategy around water. By my count there have been at least 13 votes around water, as well as at least 3 state legislative actions since the first recorded water right in Monterey County in 1876 (and all of them since 1935). In the past 84 years we have voted to create utility districts; dissolve utility districts; evaluate taking over water companies to create public water; fund this effort; not fund this effort; build desal plants; not build desal plants; and build and not build a dam and reservoir.
There is even precedent for what is going on right now with an attempt to determine if it is feasible to buy out Cal Am. After the 1958 feasibility study came up with a favorable ruling, the company announced “they don’t want to sell” and the district at the time started assembling information and preparing a bond issue to acquire the company anyway. At the time Carmel Water and Telephone was responsible for 24,500 meter hookups and claimed a value of $24 million. Then water district placed the company’s value at $10.8 million, and the state PUC said they were both off. After a lot of study the water district prepared a bond measure to raise $17.5 million to buy both CWT and the East Monterey Water Service.
In the election of 1965, the measure to buy these water companies for $17.5 million lost by a vote of 10,766 to 3,053 and the Carmel Water and Telephone Company was sold to American Water Works Company. The following year the American Water Works Company formed the California-American Water Company to manage that system.