Monterey County, agencies close in on groundwater deal

Board lauds cooperation among several agencies

By Jim Johnson, Monterey County Herald, 10/8/14

SALINAS — Praising “historic” cooperation among agencies as a harbinger of future water management efforts, the Monterey County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously signed off on a deal to provide water for the proposed Monterey Peninsula groundwater replenishment project.

The supervisors voted 4-0 to approve the five-party memorandum of understanding, which sets a six-month framework for negotiating an agreement on water sources for the recycled water proposal, expiring at the end of March. Supervisor Dave Potter called the agreement historic and suggested it could be the start of a “more global discussion” on water management for the entire region, adding that it could help build trust between agencies who typically haven’t worked successfully together.

The deal, between the Monterey County Water Resources Agency, the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District, the Monterey Regional Water Pollution Control Agency, the city of Salinas and the Marina Coast Water District contemplates tapping Peninsula wastewater and storm runoff, and Salinas-area produce wash water and contaminated runoff to help meet regional water needs.

Some water would be steered to a project known as Pure Water Monterey. Once treated, that water would be pumped into and stored in a Seaside aquifer, joining with California American Water’s desalination plant as part of the Peninsula water supply project, which is designed to help replace state-mandated pumping reductions from the Carmel River.

The deal would also provide additional irrigation water for the Castroville Seawater Intrusion Project, an existing water reclamation project.

Salinas city official Gary Petersen noted the talks began with major disagreements between the Peninsula and Salinas Valley and the threat of arbitration, and nearly fell apart before finally reaching a conclusion. Petersen said the agreement was proof that “we can build bridges.”

On Tuesday, Monterey County Farm Bureau executive director Norm Groot and Grower-Shipper Association representative Abby Taylor-Silva urged the supervisors to approve the agreement, though they also noted much work needs to be done before a final deal is in place. They called for full public involvement in the process.

Work has already begun on setting up talks on the definitive agreement, according to Peninsula water district general manager Dave Stoldt, who noted the complexity of a final deal that must include several side deals between the parties governing everything from a delivery pipeline to a recycled water purchase agreement.

The preliminary agreement includes “off-ramps” allowing parties to back away should any deal-breaker arise, as would the final deal. They include the results of the project’s environmental study, a rate study, a third-party review and mandated tax assessment proceeding. The memorandum of understanding also indemnifies parties that opt out from any project costs.

The deal has already been approved by the county water agency, Pollution Control Agency and Marina Coast boards, and the Salinas City Council was expected to consider the agreement Tuesday night, with the Peninsula water district board set to consider the preliminary deal, and a resumption of spending on the project, during a special meeting Wednesday.

Supervisor Lou Calcagno recused himself from the board’s vote because he owns property that uses recycled water.