Central Coast

Dear Jon: Water from Salinas River could help Monterey Peninsula water woes

Water manager says it would be cheaper than a desalination plant

With the water wars firmly entrenched on the Monterey Peninsula, the question of using the Salinas River water to complement usage from the Carmel River is an interesting alternative. Jarrod sent me an email and asked, "Dear Jon, with all this talk about over-pumping the Carmel River, why can't the Monterey Peninsula get water from the Salinas River?" One water manager responds: If there's a will there's a way.

Currently, California American Water Company wants to build a new desalination plant for peninsula water requirements by 2018, at a cost of over $400 million. But then there's Measure O on the ballot this June, which proposes to take Cal-Am's assets public, citing miss management and rising water bills. This contentious battle even pits mayors from peninsula cities who are promoting a "No on Measure O" vote, against many in their own constituency who have no love for Cal-Am and seek a "Yes on Measure O" vote.

So I went to the general manager at the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District Dave Stoldt with Jarrod's question. He tells me, yes, water from the Salinas River could be used for the peninsula!

Stodlt says Salinas River water rights are already spoken for and permits have been issued by the State Water Resources Board. So in order for the Monterey Peninsula jurisdictions to have access to Salinas River water, they would need to seek to make a deal for water under an existing permit.

One example, Stoldt says, is the permit held by the County Water Resources Agency. That permit is for 135,000 acre feet of water (1 acre foot equals 325,000 gallons of water). That water right is for over half of the Salinas River outflow of 242,000 acre feet per year.

Stoldt says the county agency uses very little of its allocation.

So to use the Salinas River for the peninsula, Stodlt says, the County Water Resources Agency would have to petition to change the diversion point and change the location of where it would use the water with the State Water Resources Board. In order to make that happen, Monterey Peninsula jurisdictions would have to make it economically sweet for the County Water Resources Agency to give up the water. In other words, show me the money!

If that were to happen, Stoldt says, their analysis shows it could be half to two-thirds the cost of a desalination plant! 

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