Affordability and finance
How will the Monterey Peninsula Water Supply Project (MPWSP) impact water affordability for California American Water Company (CalAm) customers as well as City of Marina residents?
Rates are expected to increase for CalAm’s ratepayers, but CalAm is a public utility regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission. This means that the Public Utilities Commission must review and approve CalAm’s rates before costs can be passed onto customers.
CalAm provides discounted rates and other benefits to disadvantaged customers to ensure that water is affordable. In addition to the programs below, CalAm is in the process of exploring other potential discounts for these customers.
CalAm’s Customer Assistance Program provides eligible households with a 30% discount on monthly water bills. To be eligible, customers either need to participate in a qualifying public assistance program or meet maximum income guidelines. An application also is required to participate in the program. The application can be accessed at the following link:
CalAm has proposed increasing the discount under the Customer Assistance Program to 35%. This proposal is being considered by the Public Utilities Commission. As of the end of 2021, 3,212 customer accounts were enrolled in the Customer Assistance Program in CalAm’s Monterey service area.
CalAm also supports a Hardship Benefit Program, designed to help customers avoid having their water shut-off due to nonpayment of water bills. Since the program began four years ago, CalAm has helped 231 customers avoid service shut-offs in its Monterey service area.
Finally, CalAm provides customer outreach to encourage participation in a federal assistance program: the Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program. This program provides financial assistance to low-income California residents to help manage their water utility costs. The program helps low-income households pay down their outstanding residential water and wastewater bills. In Monterey County, Central Coast Energy Services manages this program. An interest form for this program is accessible at the following link:
The MPWSP will not impact water rates for City of Marina residents because they are served by Marina Coast Water District, not CalAm.
What is the lifetime of the MPWSP?
If the desalination plant begins operating in 2025, it should operate for approximately 50 years (at least until 2075), providing a reliable, long-term, drought-proof water supply solution that will last many decades to come.
Water supply and demand projections
What is the role of desalination in meeting regional water supply needs?
Desalination would help ensure CalAm has a diverse portfolio of water supplies. CalAm currently obtains water for its customers from the Carmel River, the Seaside Groundwater Basin, and recycled water from the Pure Water Monterey Groundwater Replenishment Project (Pure Water Monterey). Reductions in the amount of water available from the Carmel River require the development of new water supplies.
Climate change and drought are affecting the availability and reliability of CalAm’s existing water sources. But unlike these sources, desalination would be reliable even during droughts. Desalination would complete CalAm’s water portfolio so that CalAm can supply safe, reliable water to the Monterey Peninsula.
2. What water demand projections did CalAm rely on to develop its estimates?
CalAm recently provided updated water demand projections to the Public Utilities Commission. These updated demands were based on projections developed for CalAm’s 2020 Urban Water Management Plan, an in-depth analysis that water suppliers must prepare every five years to ensure sufficient water supplies are available to meet existing and future needs.
CalAm’s water demand projections include the most recent population growth projections published by the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments and regional housing need requirements.
Do CalAm’s water demand projections take into account housing growth and climate change?
Yes. CalAm accounted for population growth projections and regional housing need requirements. In addition, CalAm accounted for the risk and variability of water supplies that could be impacted by climate change, particularly under years of sustained drought. Housing growth and climate change impacts have increased the need for a new drought-proof water supply such as desalination.
4. Will Pure Water Monterey and its proposed expansion supply enough water for the region’s needs?
Pure Water Monterey and its proposed expansion are not enough to provide a sufficient, reliable, and drought-proof water supply for the community. Both climate change and drought impact the reliability and sufficiency of recycled water. CalAm’s updated water supply and demand projections demonstrate that even with water from the Pure Water Monterey expansion, additional water supply is needed to meet expected demand. Desalination will help CalAm meet current and future demands.
What is CalAm’s role in the Pure Water Monterey expansion project? Why have there been delays in the Pure Water Monterey expansion?
CalAm has been and continues to be a supporter of Pure Water Monterey and its proposed expansion and believes that recycled water is an important tool for meeting water supply needs. CalAm has contributed over $2 million in funding to Monterey One Water for environmental and design work for the Pure Water Monterey expansion.
Monterey One Water’s proposal to expand the Pure Water Monterey project generated considerable public input and discussion. Many comments were submitted during the environmental review process. Currently, a proposed water purchase agreement to allow CalAm to purchase water from the Pure Water Monterey expansion project is pending before the Public Utilities Commission. Upon approval, Monterey One Water is expected to finalize project funding.
Environmental justice and coastal access
Why is the MPWSP’s slant well network sited in Marina? Were other locations considered?
When the Public Utilities Commission reviewed the MPWSP’s potential impacts to the environment, the Public Utilities Commission analyzed numerous alternative locations for the slant wells, including at Potrero Road, in Moss Landing, and in an area north of the CEMEX active mining area. The Public Utilities Commission’s analysis determined that locating the MPWSP’s slant well network in Marina on previously disturbed areas of the CEMEX sand mining site would be the least harmful to the environment.
How will the MPWSP benefit the City of Marina and its residents?
The MPWSP will provide substantial community benefits to Marina and its residents.
Public Access. CalAm has easement rights across the CEMEX site to build and operate the slant well network. Within CalAm’s 30-acre easement across the CEMEX site (which is over 400 acres), the slant wells would occupy just one-half acre. CalAm has proposed using a portion of its easement area to provide a public access way across a property that has been a private industrial site for decades that City of Marina residents could not access. CalAm’s proposed Public Access Plan would include pedestrian pathways and access to the beach, overlook and rest areas, wayfinding, and other amenities.
CEMEX Site Restoration. To avoid or minimize potential impacts to sensitive habitats on the CEMEX site, CalAm has proposed a Habitat Mitigation and Monitoring Plan. CalAm has proposed to restore at least 105 acres of habitat –nearly five times what CalAm previously proposed to the Coastal Commission in September 2020. About 90 acres of this restored habitat could be located on the CEMEX site – providing new, fully functioning open space habitat area within the City of Marina consistent with Marina’s Local Coastal Program.
Expanded Groundwater Monitoring. The MPWSP would not adversely affect Marina’s groundwater supplies. Nonetheless, CalAm will fund the expansion of the Monterey County Water Resources Agency’s existing regional groundwater monitoring program. CalAm will work with the Monterey County Water Resources Agency to develop this program, which would focus on the area that could be affected by the MPWSP’s slant wells.
The program would require the installation of additional monitoring wells throughout the region, which would document groundwater conditions after the MPWSP begins pumping water. Monitoring results will be made publicly available on the MPWSP’s website and presented at regular, public meetings. If the Monterey County Water Resources Agency determines that the MPWSP is causing groundwater levels to damage active local wells, CalAm will repair or replace those wells.
Economic Benefits. Marina would receive property tax revenues based on the value of the MPWSP’s slant well network and pipelines located within city limits. CalAm also expects that a significant number of construction workers, engineers, and program managers will lodge, dine, and shop in Marina. CalAm estimates that the MPWSP will result in over $200 million of direct construction-related spending in the region, which will create the equivalent of about 1,800 jobs during construction. In addition, the creation of a new reliable water supply will allow development of affordable housing on the Peninsula.
In late 2020 and early 2021, CalAm met with City of Marina officials several times to discuss additional ways in which the MPWSP could benefit Marina and its residents. CalAm is continuing to look for opportunities for the MPWSP to provide benefits to Marina.
Existing water quality concerns
How does CalAm monitor and manage drinking water quality?
CalAm monitors drinking water quality every day and takes thousands of samples each year. Our water quality meets and exceeds state and federal standards. Customers may find a copy of our annual drinking water report here: https://www.amwater.com/caaw/Water-Quality-Wastewater-Information/Water-Quality-Reports/
Who can CalAm customers contact if they have water quality concerns? How will those concerns be addressed?
CalAm customers are encouraged to contact Josh Stratton, Manager of External Affairs, with any questions or concerns they may have (Josh.email@example.com or (831) 646-3208).
How many desalination projects with slant wells exist around the world? How many are successful?
Slant wells are traditional vertical water wells drilled at an angle to access groundwater. CalAm’s proposed slant wells would access seawater-intruded groundwater aquifers that extend beneath the ocean and pump salty water that cannot otherwise be used without treatment.
From about 2015 to early 2018, CalAm constructed and operated a test slant well at the CEMEX site in the City of Marina that did not adversely impact groundwater supplies or wells. South Coast Water District also successfully constructed and ran a test slant well at Doheny Beach in Orange County for their proposed desalination project. While the MPWSP or Doheny project may be the first to use slant wells for full-scale desalination, slant wells have been used successfully to draw water from surface water sources (such as rivers) and have been used extensively for dewatering of mining sites. Further, slant/horizontal well drilling techniques have been used for many desalination projects around the world.
How many hours per month is the test slant well currently operating?
Since February 2018, when full time operations ceased, CalAm has been conducting limited maintenance pumping (once a month for about four hours) necessary to maintain the test slant well.
How much water will be produced by the desalination process?
The desalination plant would produce up to 6.4 million gallons a day of desalinated water.
Where will the excess brine be deposited and how will this impact local water quality?
CalAm proposes to mix brine resulting from the desalination process with effluent from Monterey One Water’s existing wastewater treatment facility. The effluent and brine would be discharged nearly two miles offshore into the Pacific Ocean through Monterey One Water’s existing ocean outfall pipeline.
Any brine discharged into Monterey Bay from the outfall must meet stringent water quality requirements set by the State Water Resources Control Board. The discharge also must comply with salinity standards and mitigation measures developed in an agreement with Surfrider Foundation to avoid impacts to marine wildlife.
Once the MPWSP is operational and discharging brine through the outfall, CalAm will monitor ocean water quality around the outfall discharge area to ensure no adverse impacts are occurring.
How much energy will the MPWSP use?
Desalination facilities generally require large amounts of electricity to operate. The MPWSP would consume energy to operate the slant wells, desalination plant, and related infrastructure. MPWSP construction and operation also will result in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Although the MPWSP would require a large amount of electricity each year to operate, CalAm would design and build the MPWSP to be energy efficient and minimize unnecessary or wasteful energy use. The Public Utilities Commission determined that the MPSWP’s greenhouse gas emissions impacts would be less than significant with the implementation required by mitigation measures.
Environmental impacts in the Marina area
How will the intake wells affect Marina’s groundwater supplies and groundwater conditions in and around Marina?
The MPWSP will not negatively affect Marina’s groundwater supplies. The MPWSP is anticipated to benefit groundwater conditions when it begins operating. The MPWSP would slow the rate of seawater intrusion into the groundwater basin. Seawater is currently entering the groundwater basin due to inland groundwater pumping. Because the MPWSP’s slant wells would capture the seawater that currently is migrating inland, they would help prevent further seawater intrusion.
CalAm designed the slant wells specifically to maximize the amount of seawater—not groundwater—that the MPWSP withdraws from below-ground aquifers. Over the past ten years, CalAm and independent experts have conducted extensive groundwater monitoring, investigations, and modeling to assess the MPWSP’s potential impacts to groundwater. These analyses consistently concluded that approximately 95 percent of the MPWSP’s source water would be seawater from beneath Monterey Bay. The remaining 5 percent would come from the seawater-intruded area of the groundwater basin beneath the CEMEX site. Without treatment, the salty water in this portion of the groundwater basin is unusable as a water supply for human consumption.
Marina’s water supply is pumped from wells located several miles inland from the MPWSP, in different groundwater aquifers from those that would supply the MPWSP. Groundwater modeling has confirmed that the MPWSP will have no effect on groundwater conditions where Marina’s water supply wells are located. Nonetheless, CalAm will continue its robust monitoring after operation begins to ensure that the MPWSP does not have unanticipated impacts on Marina’s wells.
How will the MPWSP impact coastal ecosystems and species in the Marina area?
The Public Utilities Commission extensively studied the MPWSP’s potential impacts to coastal ecosystems, including plant and animal species. The Public Utilities Commission determined that the MPWSP would not result in a substantial negative physical effect to terrestrial wildlife and habitats during construction and operation with implementation of various mitigation requirements.
The Public Utilities Commission developed and required the MPWSP to comply with more than 20 mitigation measures to ensure that any impacts to sensitive habitats and species would be minimized. These include measures to avoid or minimize impacts to sensitive habitat areas, conduct pre-construction surveys to avoid sensitive species, conduct biological monitoring, and reduce the introduction or spread of invasive species.
The MPWSP’s use of slant well technology will avoid impacts to marine species and habitat.
Will the Western Snowy Plovers be impacted by the MPWSP?
No. Nonetheless, the Public Utilities Commission’s approval of the MPWSP includes extensive mitigation measures to be implemented in consultation with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure the protection of the Western Snowy Plover.
CalAm must retain a qualified biologist approved by the US Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure that any Western Snowy Plover observed onsite are protected.
Any MPWSP construction must be performed outside of the Western Snowy Plover nesting season, unless CalAm obtains special approval from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
In addition, as described above, as part of the CEMEX site restoration, CalAm has proposed to provide significant coastal dune restoration along the CEMEX site, which will enhance Western Snowy Plover habitat.
How will emissions from the construction and operation of the desalination plant affect Marina residents?
The construction of the MPWSP will temporarily result in significant air quality impacts. To minimize potential impacts to surrounding communities, CalAm must prepare and implement a Construction Equipment and Vehicle Efficiency Plan to ensure that construction of the MPWSP is achieved in a fuel-efficient manner that limits the creation of greenhouse gas emissions. CalAm must submit this plan to the Public Utilities Commission for review and approval before construction begins.
To address air quality impacts during construction, CalAm must implement the following measures:
If available, using construction equipment that meets the highest U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-certified emissions standards or equipment that uses power sources other than diesel;
Preparing and implementing a policy that enforces a 5-minute idling limit for all road vehicles and a 2-minute idling limit for diesel-powered equipment; and;
Preparing and implementing a plan to control dust generated by construction.