Businesses petition CPUC for larger desal plant
Published: December 7, 2012
A COALITION of local hotels, restaurants
and other business interests contends the desal plant proposed
to supply the Monterey Peninsula with water should be much
larger to support the hospitality industry, make it possible to
build on existing lots of record and generally make the
Peninsula a better place to live.
In a Nov. 9 letter to the California Public Utilities
Commission, the Coalition of Peninsula Businesses requests that
the CPUC study the possibility of an alternate, larger desal
plant to the facility California American Water proposes in
“In order for [Cal Am] to adequately serve its customers, CPB
strongly recommends that a significantly larger desalination
plant be added to the project alternatives to be studied in the
EIR,” according to the letter to the CPUC.
As proposed, Cal Am’s desal project would supply only enough to
replace water being illegally taken from the Carmel River
without providing any for lots of record, infill, business
expansions or home remodels, something the business coalition
wants to change.
The coalition’s bid is contrary to a request from
development-wary group LandWatch Monterey County, which earlier
this year sent a letter to the CPUC telling the agency that Cal
Am’s desal plant would, in fact, provide too much water and
could lead to “induced growth.”
LandWatch also advocated for the “smallest possible project”
and said any project seeking to provide water for growth should
be first analyzed by the CPUC.
However, the coalition told the CPUC that the construction of a
“true regional water supply project, one that will finally
satisfy our decades-long water shortage, is an opportunity that
will not, in all probability, present itself again.”
The letter, sent to CPUC analyst Andrew Barnsdale, went on to
say that the CPUC would be remiss if it didn’t analyze a
“build-out” alternative in the environmental impact report for
Cal Am’s project.
“The Monterey Peninsula has been deprived of normal social and
economic activity — e.g., home remodels, business
innovations and changes driven by customer preferences — for at
least [two decades] due to these constraints and water
restrictions,” according to the group.
The coalition’s members include the Monterey County Hospitality
Association; Carmel, Monterey and Pacific Grove chambers of
commerce; the Monterey County Association of Realtors, and
Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula.
Coalition consultant Bob McKenzie told The Pine Cone the group
still supports Cal Am as the developer of the desal plant but
envisions a facility that could possibly be expanded in phases
to produce more water, much the way that the defunct regional
desalination project was designed.
The group’s co-chair, John Narigi, vice president and general
manager of the Monterey Plaza Hotel, said a larger capacity
desal plant would also likely lower the cost.
“I am hoping that the CPUC will state to Cal Am, ‘You need to
build a larger plant now,’” Narigi said this week.
The local hospitality and tourism industries, according to the
CPB, have just begun to recover from the economic downturn,
while hotel occupancies are still over six percentage points
below historical averages.
“It is an industry that accounts for $2 billion in economic
activity, provides 22,000 jobs and provides a significant tax
base for its communities,” according to the group. “The sizing
of the [water] projects must be sufficient to allow the
industry, employment and tax base to return to historical
Cal Am community relations manager Catherine Bowie said the
company was aware of CPB’s request to the CPUC.
“The Public Utilities Commission needs to look at a variety of
inputs in determining the ultimate size of the plant,” Bowie
told The Pine Cone. “And certainly, lots of record and future
economic predictions for the area are very important factors to
be considered in determining the plant’s size.”
In all, the CPB argues the Peninsula’s total need for water is
20,726 acre-feet per year, which includes 1,181 acre-feet to
satisfy lots of record, 4,545 acre-feet to meet the needs of the
local general plans 15,000 acre- feet of water for existing
Cal Am’s proposed $400 million project includes a desal plant
in Marina, underground water storage and a project to turn
wastewater into drinking water.
But the water storage project, a partnership between Cal Am and
the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District, is “inherently
unreliable,” according to the coalition, because it would depend
on excess winter flows from the Carmel River, which vary every
“No reliance on this as a source of supply should be made,” it
And the wastewater component is also unreliable because of the
MRWPCA’s board of directors’ recent vote against future funding
of the project due to uncertainties over water rights.
Cal Am has proposed building a larger, 9 million-gallon-per-day
desal plant if the wastewater component doesn’t come to
fruition. The project currently calls for a 5
million-gallon-per-day desal plant.
The coalition believes it would be less expensive in the long
run to build a plant now that could offer more water rather than
wait years down the road to augment the facility.
“The CPB believes it is now time for the Peninsula to solve its
water supply dilemma rather than undersize a ‘solution’ and
spend another 40 years arguing over the increment of water
supply augmentation,” the group said.