Cal Am strikes deal on test well

Utility, California American Water (Cal Am), has struck a deal with cement maker, Cemex, to allow the water firm to drill slant test wells, and possibly production wells, on Cemex’ north Marina sand mining plant site.

The wells will be for Cal Am’s proposed 48 Ml/d seawater reverse osmosis plant – part of its Monterey Peninsula desalination project at the north Marina. Plans call for the well head to be buried in a vault three metres below ground with the well extending 244 m at a 20° angle aimed beneath the ocean floor.

The settlement came after Cal Am filed an eminent domain lawsuit seeking to force Cemex to grant access to the site. Under the deal Cal Am will pay US$ 350,000 for the right to drill and operate its proposed test well programme to evaluate the impact of pumping from Salinas Valley groundwater subsea aquifers. The proposed test well could run for up to two years with concurrent larger scale project-permitting and design work.

The agreement included an option for Cal Am to buy up to 16 hectares of property easements on the site for desalination plant production wells. Cal Am attorney, Tony Lombardo, said the property was forecast to cost about US$ 16,000 a hectare.

Cal Am engineering manager Ian Crooks said the next best location was more than 7.5 km away and would have added some US$ 14 million in additional project costs. “We wish to thank CEMEX for their efforts in this matter,” Crooks said.

The agreement avoids an extended legal battle over the Cemex site that could have caused further delay to the project which now expected to be finished by early 2019. That would be two years into a state-ordered cutback in abstraction from the Carmel River, which provides 70% of the peninsula’s water supply.

Cal Am and Cemex had been engaged in months of talks over the proposed well site, and Crooks said Cal Am believed it had an agreement before Cemex backed out, prompting the lawsuit.

Cal Am still requires state Coastal Commission approval for the test well programme following the utility’s appeal against a denial by Marina City council. But securing the test well site meets a key condition proposed by the commission which has recommended upholding the appeal.

The commission has recommended that Cal Am should cease pumping were levels at one or more wells within 1,700 m of the test well to fall by 30 cm or were salinity to rise by more than two parts per thousand.

Marina city and Marina Coast Water District officials, as well farmers in the area, have all registered their concern that the test wells and any subsequent production wells could spoil the area’s water supply.

Marina has claimed also that Cal Am’s test well programme contravenes a 1996 ruling limiting Cemex to pumping 500 acre-feet of water (616,741 m³) a year from the site. Cal Am’s test well could pump up to 5 million m³ a year.