Monterey County Farm Bureau

Peninsula Water Supply Project

Monterey County Farm Bureau was an intervener in the CA Public Utilites Commission process for California American Water (Cal-Am) to secure approval to build a desalination facilitiy on property adjacent to the Monterey One Water facility north of Marina. Coming before the Commissioners on September 13, 2018, the project received unanimous approval for a Certificate of Public Need and Necessity, certification of the Environmental Impact Report, and approval of the Return Water Flow settlement.

The intake wells for this facility are proposed to be located on the CEMEX site along the coast, utliizling slant well technology to obtain subsurface seawater.  The desalination facility is part of a portfolio of water projects (known as the Monterey Peninsula Water Supply Project, or MPWSP) intended to relieve diversion of Carmel River water for municipal use, as ordered by the State Water Resources Control Board (the infamous Cease-and-Desist Order).

The main issue of concern to Farm Bureau was the protection of the Salinas Valley Groundwater Basin which extends out under the Monterey Bay for several miles, including under the site where the slant wells will be located.  Monterey County Farm Bureau joined the CPUC process ot ensure that Cal-Am complied with the Monterey County Water Resource Agency Act and did not export groundwater from the basin, either through intentional or unintentional consequences of their source water extractions.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) held the project evidentiary hearing for the Monterey Peninsula Water Supply Project (PWSP) during April 2013.  At this hearing, interveners in this process were able to cross-examine witnesses who have previously submitted 'expert' testimony about the various aspects of the project, from proposed user rates to design and construction, and to the public benefits.

Through cross-examiniaton it came out that most of the water experts are not aware of the extent of the Salinas Valley aquifer, its boundaries, and that alternative source water sites are also within the boundaries of the groundwater basin.  As a result of this hearing, additional studies to characterize the groundwater basin, in addition to the studies gained from the source water test well, were deterrmined as needed.  In 2018, the Hydrologic Work Group presented their findings to the CPUC, clarifying many of the mischaracterizations of the groundwater basin in the area of the slant well site.

The CA Public Utilities Commission then held a workshop on the Groundwater Replenishment portion of the MPWSP project, supported by Monterey Regional Water Polution Control Agency (now known as Monterey One Water), on June 12th, 2013, in San Francisco.  Interveners discussed the various issues of waste water use for recharge, including public health permitting requirements.  What was not discussed was the need for additional water sources, as currently all reclaimed water coming from the Monterey One Water treatment plant are committed to other uses.

After months of meetings, a tentative agreement on terms (memorandum of understanding) was reached regarding source waters for the groundwater replenishment project (known as Pure Water Monterey), along with other water rights issues.  Participating in this MOU document were Monterey Regional Water Pollution Control Agency (MRWPCA), Monterey County Water Resources Agency (MCWRA), Monterey Peninsula Water Management District (MPWMD), Marina Coast Water District (MCWD), and the City of Salinas.  This document then went before all the agency Boards for approval in October 2014.  Draft lanaguge for a definitive agreement, approved in Spring 2015, formalizing the provisions of the memorandum of understanding.  Read the memorandum of understanding document here.

The first draft Environmental Impact Report for the dealination facility was issued in December 2016 by the California Public Utilities Commission Energy Division.  In addition to the Executive Summary, chapters asess impacts to groundwater, surface waters, marine resources, land use, air quality, agriculture, and energy.  Public comments on the draft document were due to the CPUC by March 29, 2017.  After overwhelming comments received by the CPUC, it was determined that this first draft was insufficient and needed major reworking.

The revsied draft EIR was issued in mid-spring 2018, which included a larger amount of technical information on impacts of the desalination project..  This version of the EIR concurred with the findings of the Hyrdologic Working Group (which undertook an independent study of groundwater influences and impacts in the area of the source water intake wells).

Monterey County Farm Bureau is also party to a settlement agreement with Cal-Am on 'Return Water Flow' should a portion of the extracted source seawater be deemed as brackish (coming from the intruded groundwater basin).  In that event, return water (deslainiated) would be provided to both CSIP and the Castroville Community Services District in the amount of water determined to be brackish.  This settlement was approved by the CPUC Commissioners and is included as part of the ovarll project approval.

In the past months, several interveners have raised the possiblity of expanding the Pure Water Monterey project, providing more potable water to defer the decision of approval of the desalination facility.  In its approval, CPUC did not find that this would supply a sufficient amount of water to meet overall demand.

Comments by Monterey County Farm Bureau on the Proposed Approval Decision, filed with the CPUC on August 30, 2018.

Monterey County Farm Bureau, an intervener in the A12-04-019 Proceeding (proceeding), submits these comments in support of the Proposed Decision for the Monterey Peninsula Water Supply Project.   Monterey County Farm Bureau cites in these comments no material, factual, legal or technical errors within the Proposed Decision for approval.

Background and History

Monterey County Farm Bureau (MCFB) represents family farmers and ranchers in the interest of protecting and promoting agriculture throughout our County.  MCFB strives to improve the ability of those engaged in production agriculture to provide a reliable supply of food and fiber through responsible stewardship of our local resources.  Since 1917, MCFB has represented its members on issues related to water rights and supply, resources, and land use; MCFB is a non-profit agricultural trade organization supported singularly by membership.

Representing 400 family farms in the Monterey County area, MCFB has constituent members that own or manage over 250,000 acres of farm and ranch lands in our County.  In particular, this represents a substantial portion of the irrigated farmland of the Salinas River watershed area of the Salinas Valley, known as the ‘Salad Bowl of the World.’  Producing over 150 different food products and crops annually, the economic value of these agricultural products exceeded $4.4 billion[1] in 2017, outdistancing all other economic sectors of Monterey County.

MCFB, along with the Salinas Valley Water Coalition (SVWC), a similar agricultural organization focused on water rights and supply, entered into this proceeding as interveners in Spring 2012, shortly after California American Water filed their petition for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN).  MCFB and SVWC’s main concern was the intended placement of project source water wells directly over the 180-foot aquifer of the Salinas Valley Groundwater Basin where it extends out under the Monterey Bay; the issue of water rights, exportation of fresh water from the Salinas Valley Aquifer, and seawater intrusion impacts were of paramount concern to our organizations and, particularly, to our members who are overlying water rights holders and users in the coastal zone area.

To protect our interests, as part of an initial settlement agreement[2], MCFB and SVWC supported the creation of the Hydrologic Working Group (HWG), to work independently on potential impacts the source wells could have on the Salinas Valley aquifer.  An invitation to participate was extended to all interveners of record at the time of the formation of the HWG; only SVWC along with California American Water (Cal-Am) participated materially and financially, with support from MCFB[3].  The results of the HWG review process and work was presented in a document to the CPUC in 2017.

To address the issue of any freshwater extractions that may come from the proposed slant well source water facilities, MCFB and SVWC initiated discussions with Cal-Am and other interveners to develop a return water flow settlement that would satisfy the water rights issue and the Monterey County Water Resource Agency Act (Agency Act) provisions (i.e. no exportation of water from the Salinas Valley Groundwater Basin outside of the basin).  This led to a mutually beneficial settlement agreement[4] (Return Water Flow Settlement) where all parties were satisfied with the outcome, including a number of attorneys involved who crafted the language.

Hydrologic Working Group Findings

At the outset of the HWG meetings, there was skepticism that the source well array could be configured in such a way as to avoid severe impacts to the Salinas Valley Groundwater Basin.  Concerns focused on exasperating seawater intrusion in the north Marina coast area by establishing a large cone of depression, triggering in-land underground water flows from further distances within the basin, thereby violating both overlying landowner water rights and the Agency Act.

The intent was to find the best science, through an independent review by experts in their field of hydrology with specific experience and knowledge of the Salinas Valley Groundwater Basin, to determine the potential impacts of the source water intakes.  Collaborating with Cal-Am’s experts allowed for frank and honest discussion of the issues and review of available data, and the result was a report to the Public Utilities Commission that indicated that brackish water will be removed from the shallow aquifer through the source water extraction process, improving seawater intrusion in the area of the source wells.  The FEIR/FEIS supports these findings of the HWG.

This, and other findings of the HWG, helped move MCFB to a conclusion that the desalination portion of the Monterey Peninsula Water Supply Project can be operated with no impact or less than significant impact to the basin’s groundwater[5].

Water Rights

As one of the major concerns during the initial stages of this proceeding, MCFB sought to protect the water rights of overlying land owners adjacent to the proposed source water intake facility.  Because of the potential to create a cone of depression in that area, impacts to water rights holders of the Salinas Valley Groundwater Basin could create undesirable consequences due to the subsurface extractions.

Working with Cal-Am in the early stages of the proceeding, the proposed project was modified to include multiple monitoring wells to determine groundwater levels in the immediate area of the slant well array, with information supplied to the Monterey County Water Resources Agency for verification.  In addition, mitigation measures to ensure that any impacts occurring in future years of operation of the source water intake facility are in place to protect water right holders; this applies to any overlying landowner with water rights that shows the source water intake extractions are causing or inflicting harm.

The monitoring and mitigation measures satisfied the question surrounding groundwater impacts to water rights holders in the coastal zone area of the Salinas Valley Groundwater Basin; the Return Water Flow Settlement addresses the remaining water rights issue of exportation of freshwater.

Return Water Flow Settlement

MCFB entered into negotiations with several interveners (and their attorneys) to create language for the return water flow of fresh water extracted during the source water process for desalination.  Cal-Am has characterized this fresh water component as approximately 7% or less of the seawater extracted on any given day.

MCFB’s primary concern is with fresh water extraction related to the Agency Act which protects the groundwater basin legislatively from any water exports.  The Agency Act’s requirement that all fresh water extracted from the basin must remain in the basin dictates that extracted fresh water must returned to the basin; the settlement constrains this return flow to in-lieu of other groundwater pumping within the basin.  This indicates that the return water flow must supplement other supplies within the basin that are sourced from the groundwater itself.

MCFB asserts that the best choices for this return water flow are the Castroville Community Services District (CCSD) that is challenged with degrading groundwater quality, and the Castroville Seawater Intrusion Project (CSIP) that provides irrigation water to 12,000 acres of farmland in the coastal zone where seawater intrusion has made groundwater unusable.  Both of these beneficial uses of return flow water would reduce reliance on marginal quality coastal groundwater and reduce extractions (in-lieu).

Under the Return Water Flow Settlement, water would be delivered to CCSD and CSIP prior to any desalinated water delivered to the Monterey Peninsula.  This translates into Cal-Am’s source water intake extractions having a net-zero impact on Salinas Valley Basin Groundwater extractions, and makes the basin whole and the project legally feasible by avoiding any potential conflicts with the Agency Act.

By delivering return water flows to these basin water users prior to the Monterey Peninsula, there is a starting point of ‘surplus or credit’ avoiding net basin exportation.

The Return Water Flow Settlement contemplates a win-win-win solution for this difficult legal constraint for Cal-Am, benefiting CCSD and CSIP.  MCFB supports the inclusion of the Return Water Flow Settlement in the Proposed Decision.

Portfolio Project Approach of Monterey Peninsula Water Supply Project

When initially entering into this proceeding as an intervener, MCFB understood the project description to include a portfolio of projects, to ensure not only adequate supply but redundant operational protections for service disruptions.  This portfolio included desalination, aquifer storage and recovery (ASR), and reclaimed water from the Monterey One Water purification project (Pure Water Monterey).   MCFB is on record as supporting this portfolio approach at a number of occasions throughout this proceeding.

Several interveners are now calling for reliance on a single water source for the majority of the Monterey Peninsula’s water supply through expansion of the Pure Monterey Water project.  Regardless of claims to amounts of water this project expansion could ultimately supply, the key point for MCFB is that the Monterey Peninsula would be solely dependent on a single water project to provide potable water for the majority of its demand.  This is a short-sighted approach to solving a long-term water supply for a region that has been challenged to find adequate water supplies for decades.

By relying on a portfolio approach, redundancy of projects would ensure that any one project that fails to meet its supply demands could be supplied by another project of the portfolio; if any of these projects needs to contemplate a longer service interruption, other projects of the portfolio could plan ahead to meet demand, or meet demand in emergency situations.

MCFB supports the portfolio approach as the best way to ensure that the Monterey Peninsula maintains an adequate and reliable water supply for decades to come.


Salinas Valley landowners and water users have spent multiple decades and hundreds of millions of dollars developing their water resources, building two reservoirs (Nacimiento and San Antonio), the Salinas Valley Water Project, and the Castroville Seawater Intrusion Project.   These projects have been constructed and financed by bringing together the greater community to manage water resources in a sustainable manner, allowing for a robust agricultural sector to flourish and expand.  The Salinas Valley community has taken charge of their water resource destiny and successfully developed a reliable water supply system.

The Monterey Peninsula has continued to ignore potential projects as solutions to their water supply resources in these same intervening decades.  Continued acrimony over various aspects of the Monterey Peninsula Water Supply Project only continue to serve as delays to finding a solution; a decision is needed.   It’s time that the Monterey Peninsula’s water supply be made reliable by meeting current and future demand, and that Monterey County has significant and stable water resources for all regions of our County.

MCFB supports the Proposed Decision for the Monterey Peninsula Water Supply Project, with a desalination plant specified for 6.4 MGD.  MCFB also appreciates the recommendation to approve the Return Water Flow Settlement as a necessary element of the Proposed Decision.

Without the inclusion of the Return Water Flow Settlement in the Monterey Peninsula Water Supply Project CPCN, this project is legally challenged to avoid violation of water rights and the Agency Act.

MCFB reserves the right to change its support of the project approval should there be changes to the Proposed Decision; further evaluation will be needed to assess impacts of any changes to the final decision.

MCFB thanks the Commissioners for their thoughtful consideration of the Proposed Decision and the inclusion of the Return Water Flow Settlement in the approval.


[1] Monterey County Crop Report, produced by County of Monterey Agricultural Commissioner’s Office, June 2018.

[2] ‘Large Settlement Agreement’ submitted for approval to the CPUC by the majority of interveners in July 2013; this settlement has not been recommended for approval in the Proposed Decision.  Interveners: California-American Water Company, Citizens for Public Water, City of Pacific Grove, Coalition of Peninsula Businesses, County of Monterey, Division of Ratepayer Advocates, LandWatch Monterey County, Monterey County Farm Bureau, Monterey County Water Resources Agency, Monterey Peninsula Regional Water Authority, Monterey Peninsula Water Management District, Monterey Regional Water Pollution Control Agency now known as Monterey 1 Water), Planning and Conservation League Foundation, Salinas Valley Water Coalition, Sierra Club, and Surfrider Foundation.

[3] MCFB is not claiming intervener compensation in this proceeding.

[4] ‘Settlement Agreement on MPWSP Desalination Plant Return Water’ submitted for approval to the CPUC by California-American Water Company, Coalition of Peninsula Businesses, LandWatch Monterey County, Monterey County Farm Bureau, Monterey County Water Resources Agency, Monterey Peninsula Regional Water Authority, Planning and Conservation League Foundation, and Salinas Valley Water Coalition.  Approval of this settlement agreement is recommended in the Proposed Decision.

[5] “MPWSP source water would include some brackish groundwater form the SVGB.”  FEIR/FEIS, Chapter 2.5.1 Salinas Valley Groundwater Basin Return Water, page 2-23.