Why the Monterey Peninsula Hasn’t Been Able to Solve its Water Problems

The Monterey Peninsula and the ocean: “Water, water every where, Nor any drop to drink.

As everyone knows, the Monterey Peninsula has been trying and failing for decades to agree on and build a water project that will “solve” the Peninsula’s water problems. With the latest plan – the Regional Desal Plant – having lost all four wheels and gone over the rail on the first turn, we think it’s time to take a look at the fundamental difference of opinion – the political divide – that has thus far made progress impossible.

On one side are the residents and ratepayers. What they want is a secure and reasonably priced water supply. They don’t want to have to ration due to drought or because the water company is illegally diverting the water. On the other side are the development community and other “powers that be” with an interest in growth. They want the same thing the residents and ratepayers want, but they also want the current residents and ratepayers to foot the bill for the additional water that growth will require.

Projects that would create, or provide significant progress toward, a secure water supply without providing additional water for growth, have always been defeated by the growth interests. Projects that would provide additional water for growth have been defeated by the ratepayers or collapsed under their own weight.

We’ve previously discussed in greater detail how growth interests campaigned against and defeated the 1993 desal proposal because they knew that, with a secure water supply, the ratepayers would never support an expensive, growth-inducing dam. Only to have the ratepayers, in 1995, vote against the dam anyway. The next proposal, for a moderately-sized, Sand City-based desal project was stomped out by growth interests before it even made it to a vote – and a powerful campaign was undertaken to disband the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District (MPWMD) for their effrontery in even suggesting such a thing (the same people responsible for killing all projects that wouldn’t provide water for growth, fear the MPWMD for its answerability to the ratepayers, and love to blame the MPWMD for the lack of progress).

This, in a nutshell, is why the Regional Desal Project was so carefully crafted to deprive the ratepayers and the MPWMD (the ratepayers’ elected representatives on water issues) of any say in project design or operation. It’s also why the project was presented to the ratepayers as designed “only to replace the water being illegally diverted from the Carmel River,” when, in reality, a significant share of the water the project would have produced would have gone directly to new growth at Ft. Ord (almost entirely at the expense of the Peninsula ratepayers). We also suspect that a good deal of the reason the proposed project was so insanely expensive was that capacity for far greater water production was being designed into the plant, and paid for by current residents – but that’s another story.

So the real question is this: Are business leaders – especially in the Peninsula’s powerful hospitality industry – worried enough about the economic impact of rationing to want to get on with securing a legal supply as quickly as possible, or will they maintain solidarity with those who see the State Water Board’s order as an opportunity to extort current residents into subsidizing dreams of growth?

We’ll find out soon enough. The answer will be easy to read in the proposals that come forward in the coming months from Cal Am, the MPWMD, the mayors, etc. – and in the reaction those proposals get from various interests.

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4 Responses to Why the Monterey Peninsula Hasn’t Been Able to Solve its Water Problems

  1. I just wanted to comment on sizing of a water project. Many people are focused on the total annual amount of water needed to replace current supplies and are asking “Why would you need water projects that are theoretically capable of producing much more than the amount needed annually”? The answer is that the water supply system has to be designed to meet three criteria: 1) satisfy peak demand periods, which for the Monterey Peninsula occurs during the dry season months; 2) little or no pumping from the Carmel River in the dry season; 3) limited withdrawals from the Seaside Basin. Just to replace existing supplies, you need a system that can deliver up to about 18 million gallons per day (mgd) every day for one or two months in a hot, dry summer (winter demand is as low as 10 mgd). If the replacement supply projects are sized based on annual demand, there would be periods where the system could not meet daily and monthly demands. Larry Hampson

  2. xasauan says:

    That’s certainly true. When we talk about projects capable of providing new water for growth, we’re talking about projects that would not just meet the criteria you describe, but would increase the amount of water available for allocation.

  3. Valleyite says:

    Your review is as concise and focused as it gets on the Peninsula’s on-going water supply fiasco. Leadership is sorely needed to overcome the historic political games and work on resolutions.

  4. Wathah Adamah says:

    I have a question who wrote this article? I’m writing a paper on water issues in Monterey and I’m using this article as a source. thanks

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