State agencies urged to streamline
desal project approvals
Published: January 25, 2013
ONE OF the main reasons a new
water supply hasn’t been developed for the Monterey Peninsula,
despite decades of effort, is the tangle of state laws and
agencies involved in getting any water project approved.
Carmel Mayor Jason Burnett wants to change that. Burnett, who
is also vice president of the mayors’ water group, has been
meeting with officials from the State Water Resources Control
Board, the California Public Utilities Commission and the
California Coastal Commission, to help them get on the same
Burnett met independently during the last two weeks with
Michael Lauffer, chief counsel with the State Water Resources
Control Board, and California Secretary for Natural Resources
“With Laird,” Burnett said, “my basic request was that he and
the governor’s office encourage the various state agencies to
align their schedules and work together to get a project done.”
Burnett also had a conversation with California Coastal
Commission executive director Charles Lester in hopes the
powerful agency can begin outlining any concerns it has with the
project now — rather than later.
“He fully recognizes the situation we are in and said he will
encourage his staff to work with us,” Burnett said.
For instance, California American Water’s proposed desalination
plant in Marina — one of three competing project proposals —
would require a coastal development permit from the coastal
But the commission isn’t scheduled to consider the permit until
18 months after the public utilities commission issues its
“certificate of public convenience and necessity” — another
crucial permit for the water project. And those are only two of
at least 20 permits and government approvals the project will
Speeding up construction
By lining up as many ducks as possible in a row, Burnett said
he believes that the gap between permits could be drastically
reduced, thereby speeding up construction of whichever water
project is ultimately chosen.
In late 2009, the state water board issued a water cutback
order compelling Cal Am to end all unlawful diversions from the
Carmel River — the Peninsula’s primary water source — by Dec.
31, 2016, or face heavy fines that would be passed down to
While a consultant found that none of three projects would be
able to meet the 2016 deadline, Cal Am’s plan could be up and
running the quickest.
Burnett said he plans to continue the discussions, including a more formal talk with Lester.
“We will lay out the key timeline and key decision points,”
Burnett explained, “and outline the sort of information that our
staff could begin reviewing now.”
The water authority, composed of the six Peninsula mayors, was also scheduled Thursday night to hear presentations from backers of the three competing water projects. The group will choose which project it wants to back and will make its recommendation to the PUC in February.