In 1995, a complaint was filed against California American Water (CalAm), a local water provider for the Monterey Peninsula, for pumping water out of the Carmel River watershed at a rate nearly 4 times their allotted amount. This illegal extraction had endangered the health and habitat of the Carmel River. Doug Smith, an environmental scientist and professor at CSU Monterey Bay, says, “Surface water and groundwater in the Carmel Valley are the same thing.”
The impacts from overdrawing the Carmel River were hard to miss. In 1999, American Rivers named the Carmel River one of America’s top 10 most endangered rivers. Populations of endangered species such as the red-legged frog and steelhead trout were diminished due to lack of riverine habitat.
After years of debate and litigation, a Cease-and-Desist Order was issued to California American Water by the California State Water Board with a final deadline of December 31, 2021. This order requires CalAm to find alternative water sources to provide water to residents of the Monterey Peninsula.
In partnership with local water agencies, three alternative water sources have been identified. Aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) facilitates the transfer and storage from one aquifer during its ‘wet’ season and replenishes another aquifer to be used during a ‘dry’ season. The second strategy is water recycling, led by Pure Water Monterey, who runs a treatment plant in Marina. And finally, desalination, or the energy intensive process of converting seawater into potable freshwater, is a local option for our coastal community. CalAm is currently working to secure permits from the California Coastal Commission to begin operating a large desalination facility in North Marina.
According to Dave Stoldt of the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District, between ASR and water recycling, there is sufficient water supply to serve the Peninsula for 2022 and 2023. Water recycling produces an average 300 acre-feet (AF) per month, or 3,600 AF per year, off of two deep wells. 3,500 AF is the annual requirement. A third deep well will come on line early 2022, expanding capacity.
Though 2020 was a drought year, there is still enough water in the ASR ‘bank’. That said, long term storage goals are delayed due to the time needed to fully build water storage quotas. Catherine Stedman, a spokesperson from CalAm, states that if water supply conditions or consumer demands change in the next few years, especially in the face of a drought, it could trigger the need for “additional mandatory conservation”.