October 28, 2011
On Thursday, Oct. 27, a Salinas Valley farmland preservation group finally got its day in court challenging the Regional Desalination Project.
Arguing before Monterey Superior Court Judge Lydia Villareal, Ag Land Trust attorneys Molly Erickson and Michael Stamp alleged Marina Coast Water District did not adequately comply with the California Environmental Quality Act when preparing an environmental impact report for the Regional Project.
Ag Land Trust is also challenging whether Marina Coast has rights to the brackish groundwater it plans to pump for the desalination plant, and whether California American Water has the right to export the product water from the overdrafted Salinas Valley Basin. County law protects the basin's groundwater for agricultural uses.
Rather than responding to Erickson and Stamp's seven points of contention, Marina Coast attorney Mark Fogelman argued that his agency shouldn't be the one in the hot seat. The California Public Utilities Commission should be considered the lead agency for the Regional Project EIR, he said, and not Marina Coast.
If Villareal agrees, Ag Land Trust loses the CEQA argument in its lawsuit. The other two issues, regarding water rights and exportation, would be litigated separately.
A CPUC attorney showed up in court to ask if she could argue, but Villareal shut her down.
The Regional Project seeks to provide an alternative water supply for the Monterey Peninsula before the state cuts off 70 percent of Cal Am's Carmel River draws by December 2016.
Villareal has 90 days to issue an opinion.