Cal Am leaves Monterey Regional Desalination project

California American Water (Cal Am) announced on 17 January 2012 that it had withdrawn support of the agreements behind the Monterey Regional Desalination Project.

The company had proposed the project with Marina Coast Water District (MCWD) and Monterey County Water Resources Agency (MCWRA) in response to limits which will be put on its abstractions from the Carmel river by 2017.

"Desalination will be part of the Monterey Peninsula's future water supply, but the Regional Desalination Project will not be the vehicle to deliver it," said Cal Am president Rob MacLean. "Recognizing the severity of the state's cutback order, we must now move forward on an alternative water supply project as quickly as possible."

MCWRA, MCWD and Cal Am have been engaged in mediation since August 2011 and have been unable to reach agreement on how to address multiple challenges facing the regional project. However, MacLean stressed that a desalination project will still have to be developed.

Cal Am and Monterey County have agreed to continue discussions over resolving remaining project issues and finding a water supply solution, and have stated that they encouraged Marina Coast Water District to participate in these talks.

"Everyone is committed to finding a water supply solution for the Monterey Peninsula," said Monterey county supervisor Dave Potter. "With mediation ending and the environmental impact report stalled, we have an opportunity to more broadly engage the public and fix the Peninsula's water problem."

On 24 January 2012, the California Public Utilities Commission will hold a pre-hearing conference in San Francisco concerning California American Water's request to continue work toward the design and construction of a pipeline and water storage facilities, which were part of the Regional Desalination Project approved by the Commission and will be required for any of the 11 contemplated water projects.

The company prepared a study of water supply alternatives capable of meeting the area's water shortage late last year. The study identified 11 physical solutions, all of which require additional transmission and storage infrastructure. According to MacLean, obtaining Commission approval to proceed is necessary to ensure progress on a water supply project while the company determines its next steps.

"While we've elected to withdraw our support of the current Regional Desalination Project arrangement, we appreciate Marina Coast Water District and the Monterey County Water Resources Agency stepping up to the plate to be part of the water supply solution the Monterey Peninsula community so desperately needs," said MacLean. "A lot of valuable work has been accomplished that will still be applicable to a desalination project that needs to be developed."

MacLean added that any new water project will require permits or approvals from the California Public Utilities Commission, California Coastal Commission and the County of Monterey.

The Cease & Desist Order issued by the State Water Resources Control Board in 2009 set a schedule for pumping reductions on the Carmel River, which will cut the area's water supply by more than half in 2017 unless a new water project is developed. At less than 60 gallons (227 litres) per resident per day, California American Water customers on the Monterey Peninsula already have among the lowest per capita water consumption in the state.

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