Thursday, December 9, 2010
The Monterey Peninsula’s prospects for a new, long-term water supply took a major step forward Dec. 2, when the California Public Utilities Commission approved construction of a major seawater desalination plant as part of the $400 million Regional Water Project.
But the men behind a private desal venture say they can produce just as much water for a fraction of the cost.
On Nov. 30, the founder of eco-cement manufacturer Calera Corp. announced his collaboration with Desal America, a four-month-old maker of modular desalination equipment, to form Moss Landing Water, LLC. The company proposes drawing deep water from the Monterey Submarine Canyon and desalinating it in Moss Landing. The Regional Project plans to treat near-shore water in Marina.
Calera founder Brent Constantz says water beyond the sun’s reach is cleaner, colder, more eco-friendly and less expensive to desalinate.
Moss Landing Green Commercial Park, where both Calera and Desal America are headquartered, is owned by developer Nader Agha, who also is the Desal America chairman. The property already has much of the needed infrastructure for a desalination venture, Constantz says, including large storage tanks, water outfall pipes and a gas line from the neighboring power plant.
“THERE’S NO SENSE TO [THE REGIONAL WATER] PROJECT AT ALL.”
Moss Landing Water may also be able to tap wastewater from Calera, which produces water stripped of minerals such as calcium and magnesium, making the process easier and cheaper, Constantz says.
He claims Moss Landing Water could produce as much as the Regional Project – about 10,000 acre-feet per year – to replace the volume California American Water has been ordered to stop illegally diverting from the Carmel River.
While the Regional Project’s water has been estimated at up to $11,000 per acre-foot, Desal America CEO Stuart Lueck says his venture could produce it for $1,200 per acre-foot or less. But that number is still very speculative; the new company doesn’t have any funding, permits or facilities yet.
On Nov. 16, Lueck, Constantz and Agha presented to a Monterey Peninsula Water Management District committee in hopes the agency will add Moss Landing Water to its matrix of potential desal water supply projects.
But MPWMD Engineer Andy Bell cautions the prospect hasn’t been vetted for technical and regulatory viability. “We’re open to looking at any proposals… there are a number of questions that remain to be answered,” he says.
Cal Am spokeswoman Catherine Bowie is equally careful about viewing Moss Landing Water as an alternative to the Regional Project.
“It’s an interesting project, but there’s still a lot of work to be done until we start making apples-to-apples comparisons,” she says. “If something comes along that is going to be much less expensive and can be done within the stated time line, of course we would be interested. But it would need to get its environmental approvals and give us time to go back to the PUC try to get authorization and get something constructed online by 2016,” the state-imposed deadline to stop overpumping the Carmel River.
A county ordinance would require Moss Landing Water to partner with a public agency. Even if the venture doesn’t replace the Regional Project, Constantz says it could serve the Santa Cruz and Pajaro water districts.
Still, he isn’t shy about ripping into the Regional Project.
“There’s no sense to that project at all,” he says. “I think they’re way off in terms of operations and maintenance and the probability of failure.”