Thursday, September 1, 2005
At a town hall meeting on the Peninsula’s water problems last week, there were the usual tables with fancy charts and colorful pictures detailing various competing projects. But not for the desalination project proposed by Pajaro-Sunny Mesa Community Service District.
The other companies and agencies working on coastal water-supply projects all set up shop in the lobby of the Embassy Suites Hotel, with flyers and brochures. There were free pens touting a recycled water project, and California American Water (Cal Am) handed out free showerheads. But Pajaro-Sunny Mesa’s display table—and its desal project, intended to compete with Cal Am’s—was notable absent.
When the meeting began, each company and agency was allotted 10 minutes to detail its project. Steve Leonard of Cal Am spoke first. He explained his company’s Coastal Water Project, which would include a desalination plant located at the Duke Energy site in Moss Landing, 20 miles of pipeline, storage facilities and more.
To date, the water company has completed several engineering and environmental studies and filed an assessment with the California Public Utilities Commission, which will now hire a consultant to draft an Environmental Impact Report.
Cal Am’s preferred project would produce 11,730 acre-feet of water per year (an acre-foot is around 325,000 gallons). This is a “replacement project,” meaning that it will only yield enough to replace the water that is currently overpumped from the Carmel River and the Seaside Basin.
However, the company’s proposal also considers a “regional alternative” project that could produce up to 20,272 acre-feet a year—enough water to meet future growth demands for the entire region.
Cal Am has secured an agreement with Duke Energy for a “pilot plant,” a small-scale project that would produce 60,000 gallons of desalinated water a day. And the company has invested more than $4 million of shareholder money.
Former state water board member Marc del Piero, attorney for Pajaro-Sunny Mesa (PSM), spoke second. But instead of talking about progress that his company has made—engineering studies, environmental studies, funding and the like—he instead talked about North Monterey County’s water woes—from seawater intrusion to dry wells.
“I’d like to tell you a story,” del Piero began, “A story about ground water overdraft.”
It was a story everyone in the room already knew by heart.
He briefly reported that the PSM project would be located on 20 acres at the old National Refractories, next to Duke Energy, and would produce between 21,000 and 23,000 acre feet of water a year.
Oddly, del Piero didn’t mention the most promising aspect of Pajaro Sunny Mesa’s project: an agreement with Poseidon Resources Corporation, which is building two large desalination plants in Southern California.
“Our project has a whole lot of details I cannot squeeze into 10 minutes,” del Piero said in his conclusion.
When asked why Pajaro Sunny Mesa’s proposal is preferable to Cal Am’s, del Piero didn’t directly answer the question. Instead, he gave a history of Order 95-10, the state mandate that the water company stop overpumping the Carmel River. “I actually had hair when that decision was handed down,” he joked.
Later in the evening, during a heated exchange, Leonard said to del Piero: “You’ve never shown me that you have the technical, managerial and financial” capabilities to implement a water project.
Cal Am repeats a similar sentiment in a recent document filed with the PUC. The Aug. 25 document aims to prove that the Pajaro Sunny Mesa project won’t work: PSM “seems to be operating under the assumption that its agreement with Poseidon supplants its need to demonstrate that it has the technical, financial and managerial wherewithal to develop a regional water supplyproject.”
Del Piero says PSM is negotiating the terms and conditions of a long-term agreement with Poseidon right now. Cal Am doesn’t buy it, says Catherine Bowie, the company’s community relations manager.
“From my understanding, the agreement between Pajaro-Sunny Mesa and Poseidon is really just an agreement to agree to examine the possibility of working together,” she says. And, she says, “The question remains, why have they not undertaken any serious environmental or engineering work in the past 18 months?”
Del Piero responds: “The company [Poseidon] that is building the largest desalination project in the state of California is our exclusive management agent. The engineering firm [Kenedy/Jenks Consultants] that was selected and is currently operating the pilot project for Marin Municipal water district, which is one of the most environmentally conscious public agencies in Northern California, is our engineering firm, they’ve been our engineering firm for over a decade. It is difficult for me to do anything other than point out the facts and let the public judge who is telling the truth.”
Del Piero concedes that PSM hasn’t completed any environmental or engineering studies. But he’s quick to point out that the agency is working with Kennedy/Jenks to prepare a second “decision matrix,” which will be available at the water board’s Sept. 8 meeting.
He says PSM doesn’t need a new engineering study for the pilot project, which, he says, can be up and running in three months, because it uses the same technology that is already in use in San Diego County.
“It will go on a trailer and literally be rolled onto the site,” he says. “They are not trying to reinvent the wheel. These are the guys who have done more testing in terms of setting up for a desalination plant than anywhere else.”
Last year, del Piero told the Weekly that environmental review would be completed within 18 months—by December 2005. Obviously, that’s not going to happen. But he says that the EIR will begin soon, “in the next two months.” Once EIR consultants are on board, he says it will take “probably a year to 15 months to complete the EIR.
Cal Am argues that the National Refractories site won’t work for several reasons, among them that the site is thought to be contaminated with toxic materials—including chromium—and does not have a clean-up plan approved by government agencies.
Non-issues, says del Piero.
“Based on testing that has taken place, it appears that our portion of the site is clean,” he says, and points to a provision in the lease agreement that holds the landlord responsible for any such cleanup.
“We met with the [County] director of planning last week,
and he didn’t say anything about a clean-up plan,” del Piero
continues. “I asked if there were any violations of the
property and he said none that he was aware of.
The number of people who attended PacRep Theatre productions during the 2004 season. Source: The Pacific Repertory Theatre Company