Tuesday, February 3, 2009
It’s a slippery read. But despite its watered-down working, the long-awaited report analyzing the potential environmental impacts of a new water supply project for the Monterey Peninsula says the North Marina desalination alternative—using seawater vertical wells instead of slant wells—is the environmentally superior alternative.
The EIR analyzes three water supply projects that would stop California American Water Company’s overpumping of the Carmel River and Seaside Groundwater basin (the state has ordered Cal Am to drastically reduce the amount of water it takes from both, which are the Peninsula’s two primary water sources). The three project are:
The Coastal Water Project. Cal Am’s proposal, called the Coastal Water Project, anchored by a Moss Landing seawater desalination facility, would supply 11,730 acre-feet of potable water per year to the company’s ratepayers. It would use the Moss Landing Power Plant’s once through cooling system, drawing ocean water—and fish and other marine organisms—through industrial intake pipes. But this technology has been under increasing scrutiny from the California Coastal Commission and other regulatory agencies; as the EIR notes: “The future of once through cooling (OTC) at Moss Landing is uncertain,” and the power plant’s OTC system may not be re-permitted in the future.” This makes the proposed Moss Landing desal plant’s viability questionable, at best.
The North Marina Project. Like the Moss Landing proposal, the North Marina project produces potable water through seawater desalination. Its has two primary differences: Proposed location (North Marina, as opposed to Moss Landing), and seawater-intake system. Instead of utilizing once-through cooling, the North Marina project would extract water through slant wells at the end of Reservation Road—essentially drawing water through a pipeline beneath the ocean floor, using sand as a natural filter to keep marine life from being sucked into the pumping system.
The Regional Water Supply Project. This alternative is proposed by Water for Monterey County (formerly known as the Regional Plenary Oversight Group, or REPOG), and was developed by community leaders and other stakeholders over a two-year period. It includes a North Marina desal plant and several other components—aquifer storage and recovery in the Seaside Basin, recycled water, reprogrammed use of the Salinas Basin ground water, conservation, water from the Salinas River diversion project and storm water recovery. But unlike the other two proposals, which would produce the state-ordered 11,730 acre-feet of potable water for Cal Am customers, the regional project would produce water for the entire region—up to 26,500 acre-feet per year for current and future Cal Am customers, and others.
The EIR notes that all three projects do produce greenhouse gas emission: “…there appear to be no feasible mitigation measures that could reduce GHG emissions levels to below 7,000 metric tons [the California Air Resource Board’s draft significance threshold] without fundamentally changing the project. Therefore, impacts are considered to be significant and unavoidable.”
And the document eventually lists a modified North Marina project as the environmentally superior alternative—although it buries this information in Section 7, page 60:“The North Marina Project and Phase 1 of the Regional Project are environmentally superior to the Moss Landing project because:
1) They include 5 miles less of pipeline installation than the Moss Landing Project;
2) They do not include open-water intakes (and therefore avoid impacts of entrainment and impingement); and
3) They do not rely on a once-through cooling system (and therefore avoid potential future impacts on water quality and marine biological resources).
“The North Marina and Regional Projects are similar in many respects, but each has different advantages and drawbacks with regard to environmental impacts.
• The seawater vertical wells in Phase 1 of the Regional Project would eliminate the significant and unavoidable impact on noise that would be caused by the slant wells in the North Marina Project.
• Phase 1 of the Regional Project would include a 10-mgd desalination plant rather than the 11-mgd desalination plant proposed in the North Marina Project, reducing the quantity of water used, the amount of energy required to operate the intake wells, the amount of chemicals used for treatment, and the amount of waste discharged.
• Phase 1 of the Regional Project would include beneficial impacts on local groundwater basins and, in particular, would set the stage for future implementation of Phase 2 of the Regional Project, which would further beneficially impact local groundwater basins.
“Since it is difficult to prioritize resource areas and judge that impacts to one resource would be more grave than impacts to another resource, it is hard to conclude that one or the other project is environmentally superior. If seawater vertical wells are substituted into the North Marina Project instead of slant wells, the comparison becomes more (although not entirely) clear-cut.
“Substituting vertical wells into the North Marina Project would eliminate the significant and unavoidable noise impact and add beneficial impacts to a local groundwater basin. The North Marina Project with seawater vertical wells, therefore, is considered the environmentally-superior alternative under CEQA since it would possibly be slightly environmentally superior to Phase 1 of the Regional Project.”
Read the entire draft EIR at http://www.cwp-eir.com/docs.html