Desal Plant
The inside of a desal plant.

Last week I ended with the current controversy over the report the General Manager of the Water District recently released titled “Supply and Demand for Water on the Monterey Peninsula”.  This report seems to show that the Pure Water Monterey plant and its expansion – along with existing sources of water – would provide all the water that would be needed to meet current needs and known projects including affordable housing.  The report is incredibly detailed and looks at actual water use and how the various water projects could meet current and future needs.

To understand why Dave Stoldt’s report is controversial, we have to go back in history.  When the 95-10 Cease and Desist Order was issued in 1995, Cal Am was taking about 10,000 acre feet per year (afy) from the Carmel River alone, while the amount the company was legally allowed to take was only 3,376 afy. From 1999 to 2007 the Monterey Peninsula used between 14,000 and 15,000 acre feet per year (afy) of water.  In other words; they would have to reduce their pumping by about 7,000 afy and find that amount of water somewhere else.  Now, that over pumping was not all the company’s fault.  In past decades several water projects that would have allowed them to develop other sources of water had been turned down by the voters, though the company still had an obligation to meet the water needs of its customers.  But the state had spoken – stop!

In response to the need to develop other sources of water, the Monterey Peninsula Water Supply Project (MPWSP) portfolio of multiple projects was developed.  Desal was considered an important part of it because such a plant would provide over 6,200 afy of water – an amount close to what they had to stop diverting from the river. Back in January of 2013, the Mayors of the Monterey Peninsula (minus the mayor of Marina, which is not part of the JPA) unanimously agreed to back Cal Am’s proposal of their desal plant to the state’s Public Utilities Commission for a water project.  The caveat, however, was that the company also look at other options just in case their main plan didn’t pan out.

Because of the time it took to complete the EIR and get all of the local and state permits and approvals for the desal plant, however, those other projects were developed and built before desal even got started.  Aquifer Storage and Retrieval (1,300 AFY on average) came on line in 2008 and has diverted 8,561 acre feet of water to the aquifer and, with the rain we are having, should add quite a bit more this year.  Though still conducting “operational testing” of the processes, and not yet on line, the Pure Water Monterey recycled water plant (3,500 afy) is expected to start producing water in January.  An expansion could produce another 2,250 afy, though to do that the agency needs access to about 2,700 afy of source water.  Some do not believe that M1W has a guaranteed source, though the agency points to the 6,000 to 8,300 afy of processed water that flows to the ocean each year.  If the expansion does happen however that – along with other already used sources of water – would provide the Peninsula with between 11,294 and 11,700 afy. 

At the same time, because of a long drought and water restrictions, our water use started to decline to where our last ten year actual use is 11,232 afy and the five most recent year average is around 10,000 afy.  So the overall MPWSP plan has remained the same even as our water use has been declining.  Those who praised the report did so because it conformed to their belief that if there is an expansion of Pure Water Monterey, no more water projects will be needed. 

The Stoldt report was prepared without public hearings, and many in the business community object to that.  It asserts that 1,181 afy of water is needed for building homes on the various cities’ now unmetered vacant “lots of record” and business needs.  Mr. Stoldt differs a bit from Cal Am in the amount of water needed for “tourism bounce back” from the last turn down, as well as for the Pebble Beach buildout.  He calculates what the actual amount needed will be based on existing plans and known project water use rates, while the hospitality industry and Pebble want to use their approved higher numbers.  That is not surprising, though, because water rights and entitlements have always been vigorously defended here in the west.

The main differences between the two sides seem to be that supporters of the report like the certainty that only currently demand and identified needs for future construction are counted.  The report accounts for 1,181 afy need for those future projects; and this closely conforms to

AMBAG’s projection for population growth in the Peninsula cities of between 4,000 and 5,000 additional homes by 2040 – using another 1,100-1,200 afy.  Even the Cal Am Environmental Impact Report determined that our area will require about 1,185 afy of additional water.  So everyone pretty well agrees on the current need.

But those critical of the report don’t want to be restricted to just those numbers.  Additionally, supporters of the report feel that the amount of water projected for production will meet known needs and restrict future development.  Cal Am and its supporters want to take a look back ten years in time at what the water needs have been in the past and plan how to meet those needs; preferring an oversupply to a future shortage of water.  Many in the business community agree with that; pointing out that California is subject to cyclical droughts and they feel we need to act accordingly.  Another concern is that accounting for only the amount of water absolutely needed also assumes that everything will work as planned at all times, and no plant shutdown, drought or other issue will ever interrupt any of the legs of the water portfolio.