Monterey desalination gets commission green light

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) authorized plans on 2 December 2010 to develop the 10 MGD (37,850 m³/d) Regional Desalination Project, which will be built on the California central coast north of Monterey.

The decision approves a settlement agreement between California American Water (Cal-Am), Marina Coast Water District (MCWD), Monterey County Water Resources Agency (MCWRA), Monterey Water Regional Pollution Control Agency (MWRPCA), the Surfrider Foundation, the Public Trust Alliance and Citizens for Public Water.

The Regional Desalination Project will be developed by Cal-Am, a regulated utility and water provider to the Monterey Peninsula, and MCWD and MCWRA. The cities of the Monterey Peninsula will also participate in oversight of the project through an advisory committee. MCWRA will own, construct, operate and maintain the source water wells and raw water conveyance facilities to the desalination plant.

Cal-Am will own, construct, operate and maintain the pipeline, conveyance, and pumping facilities necessary to deliver the water to its customers. MWRPCA will own, operate and maintain the outfall for return of the brine to the sea.

CPUC set a US$ 297.5 million capital cost cap for the project facilities. A capital cost cap of US$ 106.875 million was set for the Cal-Am only facilities. Cost recovery from Cal-Am’s ratepayers above these cost caps would only be allowed upon a showing of exceptional circumstances and subject to a rigorous reasonableness review.

“Today’s approval by CPUC allows us to proceed with final design work and ultimately, construction,” said California American Water president Rob MacLean. “It is a huge step forward for the people of the Monterey Peninsula who have struggled for decades to develop a reliable water supply and for the efforts to protect the Carmel River and its habitat.”

In 2009, the state issued a Cease & Desist Order, requiring a 70% cut in water taken from the Carmel river by 2016. The Carmel currently supplies the majority of potable water to Monterey Peninsula residents, whose water consumption is among the lowest in California.

The next major step will be filing for California Coastal Commission approval, expected in 2011. The project is scheduled to begin delivering water by 2015.