Water Supply Projects

October 17, 2019 / Public Water Now

Pure Water Monterey Expansion vs. Cal Am Desal
Comparing the Cost and Environmental Impact

By Melodie Chrislock

California American Water customers on the Monterey Peninsula are being asked to foot the bill for a $329 million desalinization plant to solve their long-standing water supply shortage.

In 1995 the SWRCB ordered Cal Am to stop over pumping the Carmel River and the deadline for doing so is December, 2021. The deadline for doing so is December 2021. But is Cal Am’s Desal the only viable solution? Cal Am has had twenty five years to solve this problem and in the meantime another solution has emerged. Monterey One Water, the region's waster water agency, has developed Pure Water Monterey (PWM), an advanced recycled water project that can provide the needed water at a far lower cost. This project will begin delivering water shortly and could be expanded in place of building Cal Am’s proposed desal plant. The cost for the PWM Expansion would be $60 million.

When the cost of these two projects are compared over 30 years with financing and operation and maintenance costs, the difference is staggering. Over 30 years, Cal Am’s Desal would cost $1.2 billion, while the Pure Water Monterey Expansion would be only $190 million.

But the cost in dollars is not the only comparison that should be made. The environmental cost comparison is dramatic.  

The desal plant uses 38,000 megawatt hours of energy a year. The PWM Expansion uses 5,800 megawatt hours a year, but 99.8% of its energy comes from biogas generated from the adjacent landfill. Because of this the PWM Expansion would produce only 46 metric tons of CO2 over 30 years, while Cal Am’s desal plant would produce about 150,000 metric tons of CO2 at a time when our climate is in crisis!

Another big problem is that this desal plant does not draw from the ocean, it draws groundwater that Cal Am has no legal right to. It would draw 16,000 acre-feet annually from the already over drafted Salina Valley Groundwater Basin, creating seawater intrusion and threatening Marina’s water supply. It also destroys seven acres of rare dunes and environmentally sensitive habitat and adds 8 million gallons of brine discharge daily to the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary.

In comparison, the PWM Expansion has no coastal impact, reduces discharge of waste water to the Bay and would protect against seawater intrusion.

Some have argued that we need this desal plant to meet our future demand. But recently the Water Management District released a comprehensive Supply and Demand Report (downloadable PDF) showing that either project can meet the Peninsula’s future demand for decades. So, which one would you choose? Which one do you want to pay for?

Cal Am’s Desal is clearly not in the public interest. The PWN Expansion should be the preferred solution to the Peninsula’s water woes.
 It can meet the CDO deadline and lift the moratorium. And it comes at a fraction of the economic and environmental cost.

The California Coastal Commission (CCC) will have the last word on this. On November 14, the CCC will meet in Half Moon Bay to vote on whether to permit Cal Am’s Desal or not. Letters to the Coastal Commission are the last chance for the public to have a say. Send your email to [email protected] and ask the Commissioners to deny Cal Am’s Coastal Development Permit because there is a feasible alternative.

Public Water Now has complied this Comparison Chart (downloadable PDF) for quick reference in comparing both both water supply projects.

February 2, 2019 / Monterey Herald 

Pure Water Monterey Project Hits Home Stretch


A complex of buildings and water tanks in the late stages of construction now stands north of Marina as the most obvious sign of progress on a new recycled water project designed to provide the Monterey Peninsula with a new source of potable water supply by this summer.

Under construction since May 2017, the Pure Water Monterey advanced wastewater treatment plant on a three-acre site down a long drive off Del Monte Boulevard is a central element of the  $120 million project, which Monterey One Water general manager Paul Sciuto told The Herald earlier this week is about 80 percent complete and on track to deliver water for the Peninsula by July.

A partnership between Monterey One Water and the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District, the project is designed to produce up to 3,500 acre-feet of highly treated water per year to the Peninsula for injection into the Seaside basin and later extraction and use by California American Water for its Peninsula customers — who will pay about two thirds of the project’s capital cost or about $85 million.

In combination with Cal Am’s proposed desalination project and other sources, the recycled water project is a key part of the proposed replacement water supply portfolio for the Peninsula to offset the state water board’s Carmel River pumping cutback order.

The project will also provide 200 acre-feet per year of reserve water for the Seaside basin and eventually up to 4,400 acre-feet per year in additional tertiary treated irrigation water for Salinas Valley agricultural use.

Sciuto called the project’s approaching completion “exciting” and noted the cooperation between multiple area agencies, including his and the water management district, as well as the county Water Resources Agency, Marina Coast Water District, city of Salinas, the Monterey Regional Waste Management District, Fort Ord Reuse Authority, and others.

“Pure Water Monterey is a truly unique project that all of the community should be extremely proud of,” he said, “and is a testament to (Monterey One Water’s) goal of providing collaborative water solutions.”

At the same time, even as the recycled water project approaches completion, there are already increased talks regarding a potential expansion of the recycled water project as a backup or replacement for California American Water’s proposed north Marina desalination plant even as local water officials conducted an initial meeting on Thursday to discuss a formal response to the California Public Utilities Commission on the issue.

The recycled water project includes a plant complex that consists of a source water pump station structure, ozone building, membrane filtration building, two 132,200-gallon water feed tanks and other structures at the hub of a sprawling system of piping and other infrastructure capable of conveying treatment plant source water, including Peninsula municipal sewer water and contaminated Salinas Valley agricultural run-off and wash water, and the treated product water to the Seaside basin.

Sciuto noted the plant complex already includes a vacant space that could be used to expand its capacity by several hundred acre-feet of potable water per year, and reiterated that the project could still be expanded by 2,250 acre-feet per year to provide the Peninsula with a total of 5,750 acre-feet per year total by the river cutback order’s Dec. 31, 2021, deadline.

Citing a $480,000 study conducted by Monterey One Water and the water management district evaluating a potential recycled water project expansion in response to a request from the California Public Utilities Commission, Sciuto said it could be completed within 27 months from the start of environmental review to operation.

That means such an expansion project would need to start by September, though Sciuto said it would be helpful to have a little more time to hire consultants for any such endeavor.

Sciuto said such an expansion would serve as a “backup” in case Cal Am’s desal project falters, and wouldn’t be needed if desal is completed.

He noted that the CPUC appeared to “ignore” the evaluation of a potential recycled water expansion in its September decision approving the desal project, and no more work had been done on the proposal since last year.

But what the CPUC did order last year was that Cal Am officials meet with Monterey One Water and water management district representatives to discuss the Pure Water Monterey project and notify the commission within six months of last year’s desal project approval — setting a March deadline on whether Cal Am intended to seek a water purchase agreement to buy more recycled water, apparently as a bulwark against desal project delays.

Cal Am vice president Ian Crooks told The Herald the company is moving forward with the desal project and it is too early to discuss an expanded recycled water proposal, but that it might make sense to consider the possibility later on as a backup in case the desal project runs into an “obstacle.”  Crooks defined that as a formal rejection by a state agency with permitting discretion on the project.

An initial meeting of the parties was held on Thursday, and water management district general manager Dave Stoldt said the parties discussed requesting the CPUC allow another six months for a formal reply from the parties. That would mean a report to the CPUC in September, just before a crucial river cutback order milestone and possibly following an appeal review of Cal Am’s coastal development permit application by the Coastal Commission.

At the same time, Stoldt said the Moss Landing-based Deep Water Desal project is no longer considered the water management district’s preferred backup plan in case Cal Am’s desal project falters because he said it appears the proposal is “stalled” due to a lack of funding.

And, Sciuto said he has noticed increased conversation around a potential recycled water expansion, noting public testimony in support of such a proposal. Activists from organizations such as Public Water Now and Marina-Based Citizens for Just Water have been increasingly vocal about their preference for expanded recycled water supplies over Cal Am’s desal project.


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.