Thursday, November 29, 2007
The Monterey Peninsula’s water woes fall into two categories: how to make more of the usable stuff, and how to deal with the polluted stuff. In the big push to generate water, hopeful eyes turn to technologies such as desalinization and cloud seeding. But on a smaller scale, lower-budget cities brainstorm ways to stanch the flow of stormwater into the ecologically sensitive sea.
Pacific Grove Mayor Dan Cort is exploring the idea of turning a corporate yard behind the public middle school into a reservoir, which could help advance both goals. The pit has a strong granite foundation and could be outfitted with bladders to protect homes downstream, Cort says. He estimates that the pit could hold about 150 acre-feet of stormwater—almost 49 million gallons, or enough to supply 150 families of four for a year. Existing tanks at the city’s golf course could store overflow. The non-potable water could be used to irrigate the green, making more of the city’s drinking water available for other uses.
The pit, built by Chinese immigrants at the turn of the 20th century, originally served as a reservoir but fell out of use in the mid-1900s, Cort says. California American Water currently owns the property, but Cort says the company is open to the idea of selling it to the City. Cal Am spokeswoman Catherine Bowie did not return calls by press time.
“This would be an opportunity to free up water, to free up living space in our downtown and become sustainable,” Cort says.
PG also deals with stormwater at the shore. A pumping system near Lovers Point diverts summer runoff into pipes that run about 13 miles to the regional wastewater treatment plant north of Marina. Seaside is following suit, designing its own runoff diversion pumping system with the help of state and federal grants.
Combining stormwater with sewage raises the risk of overflow, which could send contaminated water spewing into the sea. But Keith Israel, general manager of the Monterey Regional Water Pollution Control Agency, isn’t worried. The plant is already operating under capacity, he says, and the stormwater pumping systems are only allowed to operate between April and November, when the volume of rain is low and the concentration of pollutants is high.
More wastewater flowing into the plant means more treated water flowing out, which can be used to irrigate nearby farms and golf courses. “It’s a win-win for us,” Israel says. “It gives us more recycled water.”
The regional water board recently expanded the plant’s permit to allow it to treat almost 30 million gallons of wastewater per day—9 million gallons more than its current average load. Israel estimates that the entire Peninsula’s summer runoff amounts to no more than 500,000 gallons per day, which he says the plant could easily handle. But the total volume of regional wastewater is expected to increase with the development of Ford Ord.
Even as more of its land is paved, Seaside may not produce more runoff. Under a 1981 city code, developers are required to mitigate stormwater to the greatest extent possible, facing fees if post-development runoff exceeds pre-development levels.
The result is a proliferation of new stormwater systems. At the Seaside Highlands housing complex, runoff flows into a retention basin that acts as a seasonal pond. A similar structure is planned for Fort Ord’s Seaside Resort. At the new City Center shopping complex, stormwater runs through a pipe into a drainage field, where it leaks out and dissipates into the soil, according to city engineer Tim O’Halloran.
While Seaside is voluntarily reducing its runoff, PG is legally required to do so. A 1982 state law prohibits the city—along with Monterey, Pebble Beach and Carmel—from discharging stormwater into marine zones protected as sensitive habitat. For more than 20 years the cities generally ignored the law, arguing that compliance would cost more than they could afford. But in 2004 the state water board sent out cease-and-desist orders, hinting at expensive lawsuits if the cities didn’t comply.
That legal shove may make city councils more receptive to ideas such as Cort’s reservoir proposal. “We can get creative with our resources,” he says. “While it may be expensive to fix the reservoir, it’s nowhere near as expensive as not using it.”