State agencies should not approve the desal proposal, and instead allow the Monterey region to focus on a recycled water solution.
By Bruce Delgado, Special to CalMatters
Bruce Delgado is the mayor of the city of Marina, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Expansion of the Pure Water Monterey recycled water project is the best option for the Monterey region to meet its future water supply needs. Unfortunately, California American Water Co., a private water supplier, is discrediting the project in the hopes of instead getting approval for their much more costly, oversized and environmentally harmful groundwater desalination project to be built in, around and through the city of Marina.
Regulators at the Coastal Commission, State Lands Commission, State Water Resources Control Board and other permitting agencies should not approve the California American Water desal proposal, and instead allow the Monterey region to finally focus fully on the more realistic, more responsible recycled water supply solution.
This battle has been raging for years, with California American Water gunning for the profitable buildout of a desal facility to supply the hotels and wealthy communities on the Monterey Peninsula. But pushing back are 1) the residents of Marina, who will suffer many of the project’s harms, 2) California American Water ratepayers who already pay some of the highest water bills in the country, 3) citizen groups concerned about the coastal ecosystem and groundwater impacts, and 4) local officials who advocate instead for sustainability, affordability, environmental protection and respect for community values.
The Newsom administration released its final California Water Resilience Portfolio in July to address water supply planning amidst droughts, floods, rising temperatures, depleted groundwater, aging infrastructure and other impacts from climate change. It emphasized the “need to harness the best of science, engineering and innovation to prepare for what’s ahead, and support long-term water resilience and ecosystem health.”
The Monterey Peninsula can provide a good demonstration of how this commitment to science and innovation plays out in the real world. Despite years of California American Water’s misinformation campaign, the Coastal Commission staff have demonstrated a commitment to the facts and reality.
The commission’s staff report issued last October rightly identified a series of unacceptable problems with the company’s project, and recommended permit denial. Staff echoed the same menu of concerns and held firm in recommending permit denial again in their updated report released recently.
They warned about environmental impact issues involving groundwater resources, sea-level rise, wetlands, environmentally sensitive habitat, fill in coastal waters, environmental justice and the availability of a feasible alternative project. The report finds that the desal project fails to meet a wide array of important Coastal Act goals and requirements.
The latest report also emphasized how the desal plant “results in adverse coastal resource effects within the community of Marina that is already disproportionately burdened by many other industrial uses and would receive none of the project benefits. There is a long history of government institutions allowing unwanted industrial development to be concentrated in underserved communities of color without their consent. Approving yet another would perpetuate this discriminatory land use practice in Marina.”
While California is working to embed environmental justice policies in its state agencies and to promote careful stewardship of our resources, it would be reckless to approve such an oversized and overpriced desal project – one that would harm the community that has to host it, and would produce water at three times the cost of Pure Water Monterey, thereby harming California American Water’s low-income customers.
Let me be clear: the Pure Water Monterey expansion will meet local water needs, and do it at a fraction of the cost, while demonstrating true environmental justice and sustainability. The Pure Water Monterey expansion can’t be built overnight, but its challenges are far easier to overcome compared to the widespread problems plaguing the desal project.
The governor’s Water Resilience Portfolio promotes water efficiency, seeks to prevent contamination or seawater intrusion in groundwater basins, and encourages water recycling. It calls for desalination “where it is cost-effective and environmentally appropriate.” California American Water’s proposal doesn’t meet that test.
Expansion of Pure Water Monterey fits our water needs, promotes our community and environmental values, and abides by state laws. Regulators should clear the path to focus on the Pure Water Monterey expansion, and avoid issuing any permits to California American Water’s unnecessary, unaffordable and unacceptable desalination distraction.