Desal Projects & Alternatives


March 1, 2016

Three Desal Options for the Monterey Peninsula

By George Riley

Few realize that we have three different desal options, two of which, the People’s Project and DeepWater Desal, would be publicly owned and far less costly than Cal Am’s proposed project. All three are moving ahead. All three have spent millions so far. All three are still far from the finish line. All three have hurdles. All three expect completed state CEQA and federal NEPA environmental evaluations in later 2016. None have coastal development permits for construction.

Cal Am’s water supply project has finally settled on two major supply sources, plus pipeline upgrades. The smaller desal project includes intake, production, discharge and the pipeline to get product water from Marina to Seaside. Cal Am had decided to pursue the smaller 6.4 mgd (million gallons per day or 7,175 acre feet per year) plant and combine it with a new Ground Water Recharge source (3500 acre feet per year) using reclaimed waste and wash water. The pipe upgrades are required on the Monterey Peninsula to handle new water volumes from supplies north of Seaside. Previously most water came from the Carmel River to the south. According to a recent Cal Am update on costs, the 6.4mgd desal project increased from $296 million to $338 million. Scheduled for early 2019, the project is a full two years behind schedule. The cost estimate is very firm since Cal Am recently sought construction bids.  Here is the picture:

  Capital Cost % *Cal Am est $/acre foot *MPWMD est $/acre foot
Peninsula pipeline upgrades $110.8M 32.8% $1941 $2016
6.4 mgd desal (mil gal/day)   226.9M 67.2% $3977 $4131
Total $337.7M   $5,918/af $6,147/af

*Neither Cal Am nor MPWMD have broken down the costs to show a potential comparison to the other two desal projects at Moss landing. This breakdown is based on the relative costs for the new pipeline and the desal.

DeepWater Desal would produce 25,000 acre feet per year for the Monterey Peninsula and other communities.  It offers creative seabed screened ocean intake at a depth of about 100 feet, proven technology, has Moss Landing power plant cooperation, no water rights issues and a traditional brine discharge plan. Completion is targeted for 2019, at a cost of about $2200/acre foot (including estimate for transfer pipeline), but is without commitments for financing and public ownership structure

The People’s Project would produce13,400 acre feet per year for the Monterey Peninsula and north Monterey county. It has existing infrastructure entitlements and prior permits at Moss Landing industrial park, can use proven screened ocean intake or variation of seabed intake, pressurized discharge of brine and no water rights issues. Completion is targeted for 2019, at a cost of about $2200/acre foot (with estimate for transfer pipeline), but without commitments for financing or public ownership structure.

Main Differences / Issues

Cal Am has a protected track within CPUC procedures.  Has political support from the Mayors Water Authority. Has commitments and plans for using public financing for about 75% of its costs, but will own 100%.  Cal Am has no water rights.  Still has problems with its testing protocol for the unproven slant wells, which are also burdened with conflict of interest, interrupted data collection, no continuous pumping test, a mid-course change in modeling design, and delayed release of key data for evaluation. Its location of intake wells interferes with Marina Coast Water District plans for its service area. Slant well extraction from 180 foot aquifer is controversial and may exacerbate sea water intrusion in the Salinas Basin. Cal Am is pressing for speedy decisions that undermine a valid evaluation of the feasibility of the unproven slant wells. The project is in conflict with a County Ordinance requiring public ownership. More recently the excess of freshwater in the test well led to a tentative agreement to send that excess to Castroville for agriculture use.  But there are no financing or design plans for delivering this water, which could be a schedule problem.

DeepWater plans to serve a larger regional need, including Salinas, south Santa Cruz County, and to pass the economies of scale savings on to all customers. Its plans are tied closely to another plan for a computer data center that will preheat desal water via cooling of data center operations, thus reducing energy costs. It uses local entrepreneurial development financing with some financial help from Monterey Peninsula Water Management District.

The People’s Project has grandfathered rights for ocean intake and discharge easements and entitlements, existing infrastructure for pipes and storage. The site is zoned properly. In 2002 the California Public Utilites Commision concluded that this Moss Landing site is the most appropriate location for a desal plant. It relies on local entrepreneurial development financing.

Cost Comparison from Extrapolation of Known Date

With such stark differences in cost, only the stubborn will not open their minds to a discussion. Ratepayers deserve that discussion. Will the various politicians and water professionals conduct their own cost comparisons?  We must demand that they do so.

Furthermore, two thirds of Cal Am’s local water revenue leaves our community to enrich Cal Am’s parent company American Water Works, their shareholders and other communities. Virtually all of DeepWater and The People’s Project water revenue would stay local.  We could have lower cost water and an economic boost with either DeepWater or the People’s Project.