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 to 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; a group of independent experts was formed to provide additional information on groundwater movement and potential project impacts..  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 or M1W), 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 known at that time was how much source water would be available to supply the replenishment project.

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, now M1W), 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 asessed 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 substantial reworking and additional environmental studies.

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 report (confirming the 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 intervening time since the CPUC approval, 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.  A draft supplemental EIR was presented to the Monterey One Water Board of Directors on April 27, 2020 and was found to be insufficient for certification.  This expansion of reclaimed water remains in contention, primarily with the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District that provided a substantial amount of the funding for the EIR report.

Cal-am continues to seek CA Coastal Commission (CCC) approval for the intake wells needed for the desaliniaton facility.  Originally scheduled in the Fall of 2019, the CCC pushed this back until the latter part of 2020 as more information is gathered on the hydrologic impacts of the intake wells.  Cal-Am later withdrew their permit application and refiled an amended permit request in late 2020; a hearing on this permit has not yet been set as CPUC staff deemed the revised application incomplete.

Monterey County Farm Bureau continues to support the Monterey Peninsula Water Supply Project and the 'three-legged stool' approach to water supply redundancy. A long-term water supply solution for the Monterey Peninsula is needed to support not only residential housing needs and lots of record, but also the economic stability of the toruism and recreation sectors and the long-promised 'bounce-back' of water availability.