Cal-Am Announces Coal-Based Water Source for Monterey Peninsula

April 1, 2017

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The Cemex site: Future location of a Coal-Fired water plant?

The Monterey Peninsula must act quickly to end its reliance on illegal water diversions from the Carmel River. Otherwise the State Water Resources Control Board, which has stood by doing nothing about the illegal diversions for more than 30 years, will likely issue a new set of empty threats and just might, eventually, order mandatory rationing – something we all know would destroy the local economy. After all, without plenty of water, how can our visitor-serving industries serve our visitors?

After more than a decade of planning, the desal plant the community had pinned its hopes on remains little more than an ever expanding library of expensive studies. Beset by problems with its unproven slant-well technology and a battle over water rights, it is unclear when, if ever, the plant might break ground, let alone produce water.

So it is welcome news that the creative minds at Cal-Am have identified yet another highly speculative, energy intensive, and ruinously expensive solution to the Peninsula’s water woes. The idea is to build a large coal gasification plant on the Cemex property north of Marina (alongside the proposed desal plant). Hydrogen produced by the gasification process would then be combined with oxygen and ignited in a combustion chamber to form water. Coal would be imported by rail from mines in the Midwest, helping to realize the President’s dream of putting coal miners back to work.

Cal-Am says they’re very excited about this new project and, given that they make their money through a guaranteed return on their investment in the water system, why wouldn’t they be? The more they spend, the more they earn. The fun only stops if the PUC decides the spending is no longer reasonable and necessary. And who knows what it would take to reach that theoretical limit?

After all, they’ve already found it reasonable and necessary to site the desal plant miles up the coast from where the water is needed, requiring millions in new infrastructure to transport the water back to the users. They’ve found it reasonable and necessary to place the wells where some of the water they’ll capture already belongs to the Salinas Valley, adding millions to the cost of running the plant (since it will have to desalinate far more water than Cal-Am’s ratepayers actually need). They’ve found projected costs that far exceed the costs of similar desal plants reasonable and necessary. They didn’t even have a problem with ceding their oversight responsibility to a water board elected by people entirely outside the Cal-Am service area – and with zero personal stake in keeping Cal-Am water rates under control.

And what’s the big deal about cost anyway? The rate structure carefully protects water hogs in the business community from the punitive rates applied to residential customers who stumble over the line into higher tiers.

The “conventional wisdom” may be that technical problems with producing sufficient water in this way are far too numerous to make it feasible. Naysayers may point to the massive air quality and global warming impacts. Bean counters may complain that the water would be more expensive drop for drop than HP Printer Ink. But you don’t know what you can accomplish until you try!

And even if Cal-Am never manages to solve every problem, as long as they spend plenty of the ratepayer’s money working on it, they’ll have done their job.

Cal-Am’s profits, let us never forget, are based on how much money they can get away with “investing” in the water system. The amount of water they actually produce and deliver is irrelevant.


Low-Lying Areas of Carmel Valley being Evacuated as River nears Flood Stage

February 20, 2017

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A good day for ducks at the Carmel River Lagoon

A mandatory evacuation has been ordered for all low-lying areas of Carmel Valley, as the Carmel River continues to rise toward a projected peak of 10.4 feet at the Robles del Rio gauge.

Here is the message from the Monterey County Office of Emergency Services:

A mandatory evacuation order has been given for residents who may be affected by flooding on the Carmel River.

The Carmel River is expected to hit flood stage beginning at 4 pm today and peak beginning at 8 pm tonight. Those affected are asked to leave as quickly as feasible. Areas that may be impacted by flooding include all low-lying areas adjacent to the entire stem of the river from the Los Padres Dam to Mission Fields.

The Red Cross has established an evacuation center at Carmel Middle School, 4389 Carmel Valley Road. The SPCA of Monterey County will be on hand to assist evacuees with their companion animals, please call the SPCA if you have large animals that need to be removed 831-373-2631.

Call 211 or text 898-211 “windstorm” for additional information.

As of 3:45 pm, the river was at 8.15 feet (5,600 cubic feet per second) at the Robles del Rio gauge.

Minor flood stage begins at 8.5 feet (revised down from 9 feet when minor flooding began along Paso Hondo at less than 9 feet last month). River systems are dynamic and rapidly changing during times of high water, making it impossible to predict exactly what will flood, or how deeply, at any given water level. This uncertainty is undoubtedly why such an extensive evacuation has been ordered.

The Carmel River reached 9.1 feet on January 11.

View the Robles del Rio gauge here.

5:30 pm Update: As of 5:00 pm, the Carmel River had actually gone down a little at the Robles del Rio gauge, measuring 8.06 feet (5,450 cfs), but heavy rain has begun moving into the area and, if it continues, this decline may be short-lived.

7:45 pm Update: As of 7:15 pm, the Carmel River had dropped to 7.73 feet (4,880 cfs), but it looks like it may have bottomed out and begun to climb again.

8:45 pm  Update: The Carmel River is officially on the rise again. 7.93 feet (5,230 cfs) as of 8:15 pm at Robles del Rio.

10:00 pm Update: At 8.54 feet, as of 9:45 pm, the Carmel River has now reached minor flood stage. It is flowing through Robles del Rio at about 6,300 cfs. The Hydrologic Prediction people have bumped the projected peak up to 10.8 feet. Hopefully, the river will peak below that level.

10:30 pm Update: As of 10:15 pm, the Carmel River was nearly back to its January high water mark. 9.0 feet at Robles del Rio (7,180 cfs).

11:00 pm Update: As of 10:45, the Carmel River was at 9.39 feet (8,030 cfs). This is the highest flow the Carmel River has seen since 1998, but still only about half the flow of the disastrous 16,000 cfs flood of 1995.

Midnight Update: As of 11:45, the river was up to 9.96 feet (9,370 cfs) at Robles del Rio. The good news is that the height of the water flowing over the spillway at Los Padres Dam appears to have leveled off, meaning the peak flow is probably passing, or has just passed, that location. Those near the river who have not evacuated should continue to carefully monitor the river and the upstream gauges.

5:30 am Update: The Carmel River peaked at around 10 feet on the Robles del Rio gauge, shortly after midnight – failing to reach the predicted 10.8 feet. As of 4:45 am it had slipped below flood stage to 8.44 feet (6,120 cfs). The peak, which has swollen to around 15,900 cfs as it has travelled downstream  is only now reaching the mouth of Carmel Valley.

8:00 am Update: The peak has now passed out to sea and all parts of the river are going down. As of 6:45 am, the Robles del Rio gauge was showing 8.06 feet (5,450 cfs) and, as of 6:30 am, the Near Carmel gauge was showing 14,100 cfs.

Here’s what the river mouth looked like an hour ago:


Soberanes Fire: Week Nine

September 19, 2016

Important caveats: Please note that the squares on the heat detection maps represent the expected margin of error, not the size of the area burned. In other words, the detection could have come from anywhere within the square. Also be aware that false detections do sometimes occur. An outlying or “over the line” heat detection is not, by itself, a confirmation that there is fire in the area indicated. In addition, the satellites do not detect heat everywhere that fire exists. Creeping, backing or smoldering fire is often not detected. Finally, the detections are only snapshots of moments in time. Flare ups that occur before or after a satellite pass may be entirely missed.

Also be aware that yellow squares disappear from the map after 6 days. These are not maps of the area burned since the fire began, just maps of where heat has been detected during the past week. Read the rest of this entry »


Soberanes Fire: Week Seven

September 2, 2016

Important caveats: Please note that the squares on the heat detection maps represent the expected margin of error, not the size of the area burned. In other words, the detection could have come from anywhere within the square. Also be aware that false detections do sometimes occur. An outlying or “over the line” heat detection is not, by itself, a confirmation that there is fire in the area indicated. In addition, the satellites do not detect heat everywhere that fire exists. Creeping, backing or smoldering fire is often not detected. Finally, the detections are only snapshots of moments in time. Flare ups that occur before or after a satellite pass may be entirely missed.

Also be aware that yellow squares disappear from the map after 6 days. These are not maps of the area burned since the fire began, just maps of where heat has been detected during the past week. Read the rest of this entry »


The Sorry State of Water Conservation on the Monterey Peninsula

February 5, 2016

For years local officials have waived off suggestions that the Monterey Peninsula could do more to save water by falsely claiming that “residents of the Monterey Peninsula use less water per person per day than anywhere else in the state.” They’ve even gone so far as to publish fraudulent figures purporting to support this claim.

The purpose of this grandiose bragging has been to promote approval of as large and growth-inducing a new water project, whether dam or desal, as possible. That effort appears to have succeeded, but at the cost of undercutting efforts to increase water conservation. Read the rest of this entry »


Steelhead Lose Again at Carmel River Mouth

January 11, 2016

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Slowly rising lagoon

A few days ago, everything was working out perfectly for the Carmel River’s remnant steelhead population. With the San Clemente Dam gone, the door was open for more young steelhead smolts to safely reach the lagoon, and eventually the sea, than had been possible for many years. Then, relatively gentle rains put enough flow in the river to provide easy fish passage from the higher elevation tributaries to the lagoon, but not enough to breach the high summer sandbar at the lagoon mouth. Behind the bar, the slowly filling lagoon was becoming an ideal habitat for young steelhead to undergo the rapid growth and physiological changes necessary to survive at sea. Read the rest of this entry »


More Monterey Peninsula Residential Water Use Data

October 14, 2015

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Throughout the year, we’ve been posting, on a monthly basis, the average number of gallons used per person per day by residents of the Monterey Peninsula’s Cal Am service area, together with how that compares to other cities and water districts throughout the state.

Why? Read the rest of this entry »