New Seawater Intrusion Maps Confirm that Water Runs Downhill

July 31, 2017

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The Salinas Valley has a seawater intrusion problem for a very simple reason. Groundwater levels are lower than sea level. As long as this remains the case, it’s pretty obvious that seawater will not stop flowing downhill into the Salinas Valley aquifers. See this post, from 2015, if you’re interested in the details.
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A Day on the Arroyo Seco

July 23, 2017

I joined Ventana Wilderness Alliance staff and volunteers in marking the one year anniversary of the ignition of the Soberanes Fire by cleaning up trash and dismantling fire rings along the Arroyo Seco River.

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The Arroyo Seco River, with mile after mile of spectacular swimming holes, is a popular place to beat the heat – especially on days, like yesterday, when temperatures in the canyon climb into the triple digits.

While we found, and hauled out, a lot of junk, this area is less trashed than popular locations on the coast. This might seem surprising, considering the large crowds and heavy alcohol consumption, but it’s probably because Salinas Valley locals outnumber tourists.
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Fourth of July in the Hills

June 30, 2017

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What harm could there be in having a little campfire?

Those who live in, or near, California’s fire-prone wildlands tend to get pretty jumpy around the Fourth of July. Many refuse to travel to town for parades and parties; preferring instead to stay at home re-checking water systems and sharpening chain saw blades. Their eyes crawl up to scan the sky for smoke so frequently it becomes a nervous tic. They sniff the air so often that they appear to be suffering from nasal congestion. They fly into a rage at the sight of anyone building campfires or using fireworks.
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Mud Creek Now Mud Point

May 23, 2017

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Punta Barro: Big Sur’s newest geographical feature (photo credit: Rock Knocker)

The Santa Lucia Mountains are very young. At just 5 million years old, they are still in the process of being born – punching upward out of the Pacific faster than the forces of wind, waves, rain, and gravity can wear them down. Their steep, unstable seaward wall, rising to over 5,000 feet at Cone Peak, is constantly eroding, sliding and collapsing into the sea.
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April Wildflowers

April 19, 2017

All that rain has really gotten the wildflowers going this month. Here are some highlights from the past few weeks:

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California goldfields (Lasthinia californica) and Gray’s clover (Trifolium grayi), share a meadow at The Indians in the upper Arroyo Seco watershed.
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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.


Big Sur Highway Mayhem Map

March 18, 2017

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The Highway has been mostly closed for over a month now, but sooner or later it will be business as usual again.

There’s been concern expressed recently about the safety of Highway One through Big Sur. Not concern about the inherent danger of a narrow, twisting road perched on the side of a cliff, but concern about new dangers created by congestion and overcrowding.
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