Thursday, December 13, 2012
One city’s sewage may be another’s savior. At least, that’s one way of looking at the math behind toilet and bathtub drainage in Salinas, where wastewater could total as much as 4,000 acre-feet of water a year.
That’s about the amount California American Water is proposing to pull from a recycled water plant that supplements the heavily pumped aquifer below the North Salinas Valley. Groundwater replenishment is included as a component of Cal Am’s Water Supply Project for the Monterey Peninsula.
“We need your water,” Dennis Allion, a Del Rey Oaks councilman and Monterey Regional Water Pollution Control Agency director, told Salinas Public Works Director Gary Peterson at a heated Dec. 6 meeting.
These are the days when wastewater can be packaged and resold – and Peterson expects the city of Salinas to be able to collect on that, if it can get over its misgivings about working with the MRWPCA at all.
“There’s a profound lack of trust in your agency,” Peterson told MRWPCA representatives at the meeting.
Agency engineers and Salinas public works staff first hatched the idea of the city hooking into the agency’s existing water treatment plant in North Marina on a napkin over beers. Now, MRWPCA is testing the city’s water and talking about a connection to the plant, which could cost Salinas $30 million to $45 million to build.
Opportune timing might give Salinas an extra bargaining chip. The city’s wastewater evaporates or percolates today, but newer technology could capture and reuse that water just as the Peninsula is desperately looking for a replacement supply.
The state has ordered steep cutbacks in the Peninsula’s primary water sources, the Carmel River and the Seaside Aquifer.
Peninsula interests are in a heated water-rights battle with Salinas Valley agriculture. Growers contend three amendments to the original 1992 agreement with the pollution control agency give them rights to the first 19,500 acre-feet of recycled water, which is pumped via a so-called “purple line” to Castroville-area fields farmed by Dole, Ocean Mist, Scattini & Sons and others.
That lessens the need to pull well water and reduces the risk of seawater intrusion, which can make fresh groundwater salty.
Those concerns put Cal Am’s groundwater replenishment project at an impasse. The MRWPCA board halted the next phase of environmental study with a tie vote Oct. 29.
Since then, growers have been meeting with MRWPCA, the county Water Resources Agency, Marina Coast Water District and Salinas officials in an effort to hash out a fourth amendment – to no avail.
“[The growers] feel they’ve been shnookered in the past,” MCWRA interim general manager David Chardovayne said at the Dec. 6 meeting. “It’s crystal clear from the growers’ position and from the [Water Resources] Agency that the 19,500 is a water right for the agency. As soon as we confirm that, we can work together.”
But there was no agreement, just a PowerPoint slide titled, “Christmas wish list,” showing clip art of wrapped presents, including “peace in the valley.”
Peace still seemed elusive. As he watched the debate, Peterson said of the 19,500 acre-feet: “This number was made in an agreement 20 years ago. It’s not real. Even if you guys needed every drop, it doesn’t exist.”
The MRWPCA board will consider next steps at their Jan. 28 meeting.