Agreement at last on desalination supply for Monterey

Tentative agreement has finally been reached by the three agencies involved in developing a regional water supply project for California's Monterey peninsula, which will include a 10 MGD (37,850 m³/d) desalination facility.

In a press conference on 30 March 2010 in Monterey, officials from California American Water (Cal Am), Monterey County Water Resources Agency and Marina Coast Water District, plus a gathering of local elected officials, announced the agreement.

The regional water supply project was just one of several proposed for the Monterey area resulting from Cal Am being told to reduce its withdrawals from the Carmel river by 70%. A combination of desalination and underground storage of winter river flows, the project will satisfy state demands to reduce the peninsula's reliance on the Carmel river and serve future water needs for customers of Marina Coast Water District.

The key component will be the desalination facility, which will be located in North Marina and owned by Marina Coast Water District. It will draw a combination of seawater and brackish groundwater from wells that will be owned by the Monterey County Water Resources Agency. The brine will be discharged through an existing ocean outfall structure belonging to Monterey Regional Water Pollution Control Agency.

Cal Am will purchase water from the project and will build and own a 10-mile (16 km) pipeline to deliver water from Marina to its customers on the peninsula. The company will also construct additional storage facilities required to operate the project as well as infrastructure needed to expand its aquifer, storage and recovery program, which captures excess winter flows from the Carmel and stores them in the Seaside groundwater basin for withdrawal in the dry season.

"After years of study, negotiation and public input, we have very good news to report," said Cal Am president, Robert MacLean. "This proposed agreement paves the way for a collaborative project, which is also the lowest cost and most environmentally friendly of the many options that have been considered."

"This project has the support of environmental experts because it avoids impacts to marine life by utilizing inland wells to draw seawater instead of a direct ocean intake pipe," said MacLean. "We're also committed to exploring the possibility of alternative energy sources -- such as methane gas from the landfill in Marina - to generate electricity and reduce our carbon footprint"

The total cost for the wells, desalination facility, and the pipeline and water storage components is estimated at US$ 280-390 million.

In order for the project to proceed, the California Public Utilities Commission must approve the agreement reached between the parties and issue a Certificate of Convenience and Public Necessity. A decision is expected later this year, which will allow the project proponents to move ahead with final design and construction work.

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