Another California desalination plant approved — the most contentious one yet

By Rachel Becker, CalMatters, November 18, 2022

“​​The California Coastal Commission [on November 17] approved another desalination plant, despite citing its high costs, risks to Monterey Bay’s environment and ‘the most significant environmental justice issues’ the commission has faced in recent years.

“The commission’s divided, 8-2 vote came after 13 hours of debate at a Salinas public hearing packed with several hundred people[.]

“Much of the debate focused on the fairness of locating a for-profit company’s facility in the Monterey County city of Marina — which does not need the water and is home to designated disadvantaged neighborhoods. The expensive supply will flow to other communities, including the whiter, wealthy enclaves of Carmel-by-the-Sea, Pacific Grove and Pebble Beach.

“The approval is a pivot from the staff’s 2020 recommendation to reject the company’s proposal to build a larger plant. Since then, California has faced its driest three-year stretch on record, and a fourth drought year is looming, making the need for new drinking water supplies more urgent.

“Coastal Commission staff acknowledged that even if [California American Water, the proposed project’s operator,] meets the conditions [of approval], the environmental justice impacts remain in Marina and elsewhere.

“The commission tasked the company with keeping a close watch on how the wetlands respond to pumping, and developing a plan if they find any harm. Commissioners also responded to residents’ complaints by adding last-minute requirements for the company to prioritize purchasing other dune habitat in an effort to offset ecological harm.

“The desalinated water could cost more than $6,000 per acre-foot. The estimated 50 percent increase in rates will ‘disproportionately burden low-income ratepayers in the service area and residents in the City of Marina,’ according to commission staff.

“Others questioned the need for the pricey water, particularly given efforts by Pure Water Monterey to recycle more water.” 

Read the full article here.  (~8 min.)

Scroll to Top