Author Archives: PWM

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.

Five parties negotiating over recycled wastewater supply near agreement

by Sara Rubin, Monterey County Weekly, 9/19/14

It’s easy to experience a sense of deja vu when it comes to Monterey County politics. The issues have a way of repeating themselves.

No different when the water supply in question is the stuff that runs down our drains or gets flushed down the toilet.

Five parties have been fiercely negotiating for who gets how much treated water out of the regional water treatment plant in Marina. The ferocity is perhaps a sign of the times: California is parched, and even wastewater looks enticing.

There’s also, of course, the impending 2016 state deadline for California American Water to stop over-pumping the Carmel River and provide an alternate water source for the Monterey Peninsula. If the Monterey Regional Water Pollution Control Agency, which runs the water treatment plant, can expand its water treatment program, they’ll help out Peninsula water users with groundwater replenishment, or what they’re called “Monterey Pure Water.” If that project gets off the ground, Cal Am can build a smaller, less costly, desal plant.

But there’s been tension since the beginning over whether agricultural interests—which currently use recycled wastewater for irrigating Castroville-area fields—will play nice with the Peninsula.

Friday morning, 17 representatives of various interests—the Pollution Control Agency, Monterey Peninsula Water Management District, Monterey County Water Resources Agency, agriculture, Marina Coast Water District and the city of Salinas—met to try and hash out a memorandum of understanding between all the parties.

The draft MOU, which has been in the works for going on two years, heads to the Water Resources Agency board of directors for approval on Monday. The boards and council of the other respectives parties (MPWMD, Salinas and Marina Coast) each have to approve the MOU as well for the project to be viable.

The PCA and Water Management District have spent about $10 million so far on studies and analysis. They’re at work on an environmental impact report for Pure Water Monterey, and need to complete it by May for Public Utilities Commission approval.

To do that, they need specific agreements in place on which entity contributes how much water, who pays how much for new infrastructure, and how much water each entity can use no later than March 31. The draft MOU expires on that date.

Today’s discussion seemed to bring the parties close to an agreement—but the MOU is simply an agreement to agree. They’re setting the stage simply for continued deliberation over the specific cost and water agreements still needed.

If all five partner entities sign off on the MOU, it sets the stage for all parties to talk specifics—which feels like they’re back to square one.

Some people wanted more, like Dennis Sites of Ocean Mist Farms. “You started out by saying there’s an agreement to agree,” he said. “It’s an agreement to try to agree. That makes me a little concerned.”

But it’s actually progress, says Water Resources Agency GM David Chardavoyne. “When it was just MCWRA and PCA, we weren’t making any progress,” he says. “When Monterey Peninsula Water Management District came into the picture and provided some adult supervision, we started making progress.”

Some highlights of that progress, per the draft MOU and this morning’s meeting, which was facilitated by Water Management District GM Dave Stoldt:

  • Stoldt kicked off the meeting with this: “Perfect is the enemy of the good. I always attributed that to (County Supervisor) Dave Potter, but apparently it was Voltaire.”
  • If any new water rights are granted from the State Water Resources Control Board, the county Water Resources Agency gets to keep them. Stoldt and Chardavoyne plan to clarify that language in the MOU by Monday.
  • “We’re highly confident some level of water rights will get granted,” Stoldt said. However, he cautioned that there might be some environmental opposition to using these waters: Reportedly, a CSU Monterey Bay professor has seen steelhead in Gabilan Creek.
  • Nancy Isakson, president of the Salinas Valley Water Coalition, which represents agricultural water interests, suggested that Stoldt strike the mention of water rights. “The Salinas River and surface water rights were mentioned a few times in this room,” said Rich Smith, a coalition member and owner of Paraiso Vineyards near Soledad. “Just printing those words in the [MOU] is going to cause indigestion from Bradley to Castroville.” (If you want to know why, take a look at the Weekly’s recent cover story on the Salinas River and water rights history.)
  • Smith was seeking a clearer explanation of how the expansion would benefit ag interests, when it clearly benefits the Peninsula. “The Valley is full of political influences,” he said. “I’m a young guy, and I’m 70. It’s not easy for me to sit in the Water Coalition meetings and say, ‘What we’re doing is actually a good thing.'”
  • Seaside Mayor Ralph Rubio tried to assuage some of Smith’s suspicions that the Peninsula users would somehow cut off ag down the road. “I  take you at face value for being an honorable gentleman; I would hope you would do the same for me,” he said.
  •  “The idea that we’re go to shut it off…I’m not looking at an end-all benefit just for the Peninsula. We’re not closed systems, we’re not silos.”
  • If approved, the MOU will eliminate a previous claim growers have insisted on. It’s an amendment granting up 19,500 acre-feet per year of treated water to growers in the Castroville area. That number would be replaced by today’s existing supply, which is lower, about 15,500.
  • Part of why the 19,500 acre-foot threshold hasn’t been met is because of improved conservation measures by household users; more efficient washers, shower heads and toilets means less water for PCA to treat and reuse.

A few people pointed out that all of this water—toilet water, urban runoff, ag-polluted ditches, industrial wastewater—was once a liability. Now each entity views it as an asset.

“This never says it’s an agreement to agree, it’s an agreement to negotiate,” Stoldt said.

Desal plant delays could be saving grace for delayed recycled water talks

by Sara Rubin, Monterey County Now 8/25/14

Full article:

Anyone who follows the Monterey Peninsula’s quest for a water supply knows that nothing happens quickly. A new delay in the environmental documents for California American Water’s proposed desalination plant in North Marina means up to a six-month delay in producing water.

“While a delay is very regrettable, we agree that it is unavoidable,” Administrative Law Judge Angela Minkin wrote in her ruling, granting an additional four months for a draft environmental impact report analyzing the impacts of Cal Am’s proposed desal plant.

The new ETA for the draft environmental documents is January of 2015.

That sets back the expects start-up date for desalination from July 2018 to late 2018 or early 2019, according to Cal Am’s engineering team, which they presented Monday afternoon to the governance committee of the Monterey Peninsula Regional Water Authority, made up of six Peninsula mayors.

The delay is due to continued analysis by a hydrogeology working group, which is looking at whether the proposed slant wells would draw up water from Monterey Bay, or the Salinas Valley groundwater basin, which would mean the project could exacerbate problems in the over-drafted Salinas aquifer.

The delay has a silver lining to Cal Am and its partners: It alleviates the unresolved negotiations on another aspect of the possible water supply project—recycled wastewater.

A group of about 20 public officials and growers have been meeting for months to hash out an agreement over how to fairly divvy up the stuff we flush down our toilets and what runs down our drains.

It’s been slow going, according to members of the group, known as “meet and confer,” and a compromise has proved elusive after two years of talks. Bob Antle’s sudden passing earlier this month leaves the group without one its agricultural experts and representatives, a further setback.

The crux of the debate: multiple entities, from households to industrial lettuce-washing plants, create wastewater. Much of that goes to a treatment plant in Marina, operated by the Monterey Regional Pollution Control Agency, which thoroughly cleans enough water to irrigate about 12,000 acres of Castroville-area farmland, funneling the water through the highly visible “purple line.”

Now other water-hungry entities—namely, the Peninsula—want in. (Peninsula cities deliver much of the water to the PCA plant.)

If the recycled water system can provide at least 3,000 acre-feet per year to the Peninsula, Cal Am plans to construct a smaller desal plant.

At issue: 19,500 acre-feet of water North Salinas Valley growers lay claim to. There hasn’t actually been 19,500 acre-feet of water since the recycled water plant went online in 1998. The plant’s only at about 60-percent capacity, due partly to conservation measures upstream where residents of Peninsula cities, Moss Landing and Castroville take shorter showers or flush fewer toilets, water officials say.

That’s made it hard for Peninsula interests to get an agreement from the PCA board to let them tap some 3,000 acre-feet from the wastewater supply.

The meetings in 2012 to talk it out were open the public; they’ve since transitioned to closed negotiations, subsequent to a July 2013 settlement agreement.

“Meet-and-confer” negotiations began between the Monterey County Water Resources Agency and the PCA in September 2013 and continued through March of this year, according to PCA counsel Rob Wellington.

In April, the group expanded to include growers and more public entities. “These meetings were by invitation only with each of the five parties inviting those they determined important to attend. Again, these were private negotiation meetings,” Wellington writes by email.

In response to a Public Records Act request, the PCA provided agendas and sign-in sheets for all of the meetings, which lately evolved to a “stakeholder working group.”

The documents show at least two draft agreements on how to share the water; neither was approved.

Representatives of the Monterey County Water Resources Agency; Pollution Control Agency; city of Salinas; Monterey Peninsula Water Management District; Marina Coast Water District; County Board of Supervisors, and growers—including RC Farms, Ocean Mist Farms, T&A, Scattini & Sons, and Paraiso Vineyards—have attended the talks.