Cal Am in race to get slant well test approval

California’s water utility, California American Water (Cal Am), is locked in a legal battle and races against the Coastal Commission timetable and a threatened shore bird’s breeding season in its bid to construct a slant well test for its proposed Monterey desalination facility.

Cement firm, Cemex has denied Cal Am access to the proposed slant well site at Cemex’s mining plant in north Marina. A court hearing on the Cal Am’s bid to force Cemex to allow access to the site is scheduled for 31 October. Should the court decline to rule immediately Cal Am could be without the test site in time for a crucial November meeting of the state Coastal Commission. The Commission is to consider Cal Am’s appeal aimed at reversing and earlier rejection of the project by Marina City council.

Cal Am has said the Commission has indicated agreement to allow the test proposal to progress even if the utility does not have access to the site. But owner approval would be a condition of the permit. Monterey Peninsula Water Authority board has officially backed the Cal Am appeal.

Cal Am officials has said Cemex pulled out from a commitment it made after the Marina City denied Cal Am’s bid.

Meanwhile Cal Am said it needs enough time to conduct drilling for the test before the breeding season of an endangered shore bird, the snowy plover, begins in early March. Without it, Cal Am’s proposed Monterey Peninsular desalination project could be postponed further.

The Monterey proposal was a response to state-ordered pumping cutbacks from the Carmel River. The project has already been delayed several times and it will not be operational until at least two years after new rules to protect the Carmel River are in place at the start of 2017.

The slant-well test is considered crucial to determining if the desal proposal, which involves drawing water from beneath the ocean floor to an on-shore plant, is technically feasible. Cal Am officials say test data must be analyzed before any alternative intake sites, such as Potrero Road, or methods, such as direct ocean pumping, can be considered.