Monterey Peninsula’s Water History

In the late 1880’s, the Pacific Improvement Company, the developer of the Del Monte Hotel, and what is now the Naval Postgraduate school as of 1942, built the first dam downstream of the current San Clemente dam on the Carmel Valley River. Twenty-three miles of pipe were laid down Carmel Valley and around the Peninsula coastline to the Del Monte Hotel. The City of Monterey soon hooked up to the hotel’s water system. Then in 1905 the Company drilled six wells under the riverbed near the lower end of the Laureles Ranch and installed pumps with new pipes. This laid the foundation for Monterey’s primary source of freshwater.

In 1915 Del Monte Properties Company, run by Samuel Morse, purchased the Pacific Improvement Company and built a new larger dam, what is now the San Clemente dam in use today, just upstream of the old dam. In 1930, Morse sold The Del Monte Properties Company’s water system to Chester Loveland, who agreed to sell water to Del Monte Properties at a preferred rate for the next 50 years, however the rates increased. Due to public outcry, Loveland, in turn, transferred ownership to the Central California Water Company, a company in which he also owned. A movement calling for a public takeover of the company was organized soon after the transfer, but the measure was defeated in 1935. Subsequently, Loveland transferred ownership of the system to California Water and Telephone Company (CW&T).

CW&T had failed to maintain the water system, and water rationing was imposed on some customers. The water companies had water supply problems in the summer of 1961, and CW&T was granted permission by the City of Seaside to pump water from the Seaside Aquifer but only enough for use by its customers in Seaside. However, the continued pumping of the Seaside aquifer today has led to  slough of issues, one being the increasing effects of salt water intrustion. East Monterey Water service continued to deteriorate, so the City of Seaside began steps to establish its own water system, East Monterey Water Company. CW&T was sold to American Water Works Company (today Cal-Am) in 1965 and East Monterey Water Company was then ultimately consolidated with Cal-Am.

The 1970’s played a main role in the direction of freshwater availability for the Monterey Peninsula. In 1970, Cal-Am announced a water supply plan that would be broken down into two phases. These phases consisted of the construction of two smaller, additional dams. However, the effort for the plan was abandoned in 1971 in favor of a “Super San Clemente Dam.” This project was then put on hold while the Army Corps of Engineers studied various Carmel River dam alternatives. In 1973 the Corps proposed a multi-purpose dam, which also included flood control. Cal-Am rejected the proposal in favor of a smaller version of the Super San Clemente Dam to be funded in conjunction with a public agency.

In 1978 the Monterey Peninsula Water Management Agency (MPWMA), a joint agency originally composed on two Peninsula Mayors, was formed by the voters. The ultimate goal of the company was to either work in partnership with or buy out Cal-Am. This agency began working with the County to come up with freshwater alternatives. Alternatives included plans for the Arroyo Seco dam, including a multi-purpose dam with the Corps, getting in line for San Felipe Water, desalination; which was not passed in its first election in 1993, and water reclamation.

In 1995 the SWRCB issued Order 95-10 to Cal-Am and MPWMD. The Order required California American Water and Monterey Peninsula Water Management District to restore the Carmel Valley River Habitat and ultimately initiate a 75% cutback. Order 95-10 was the result of Cal-Am’s over pumping from the Carmel Valley River Watershed without a permit. The normal pumping rate of Cal-Am since the 1980’s has been 14,106* acre-feet of water per month, which is close to 3,000 acre-feet above the state set limit of 11,285. In regards to future limits the state plans to mandate Cal-Am to reduce pumping from the Carmel River Basin to 3,376 acre-foot, which is 25% of the past pumping rates. The order concluded that the acre-feet overdrawn per year must be replaced, and the state board filed an action to assess Cal-Am customers $168,000 for the overuse. Since that time, a search for a water supply project has focused on developing a desalination project. During the intervening years, an advisory vote to abolish the District was supported by a majority of voters, but legislation addressing the governance issue stalled in the State Legislature. During this time frame, Cal-Am was purchased by a German-owned company, and a 2005 effort calling for a study of a public take-over of Cal-Am was defeated.

In 2007, the SWRCB issued Permit 20808, giving Cal-Am the right to divert 2,426 afa from the Carmel River for injection into the Seaside Groundwater Basin, as part of the “Aquifer Storage & Recovery Project” (ASR), one of the water project currently in progress. The diversions can only take place during the rainy season, when there is sufficient water in the river to ensure that public trust resources will not be harmed. The idea is to store the water in the Seaside Groundwater Basin and pump it back out when it is needed. The problem is that only a small amount of the injected water will actually be recoverable. Cal-Am has also applied to the SWRCB (Application A30215) for the right to divert an additional 2,964 afa from the Carmel River; an amount which they hope the SWRCB will find, together with their existing rights, can be safely diverted without harm to steelhead or riparian vegetation. An Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for this application is currently being prepared by the MPWMD. Unfortunately the Seaside Groundwater Basin is unable to sustain the increased level of pumping due to its irregularity and, with saltwater intrusion becoming an increasingly serious threat.

In October of 2009 the State Resource Water control Board passed a Cease and Desist order against Cal-Am and MPWMD after finding that Cal-Am had violated order 95-10. The order requires Cal Am to scale down its river diversions by 7%, or 549 acre-feet, this year, followed by annual reductions until diversions are within the legal limit. The deadline to achieve compliance is Dec. 31, 2016. It asks Cal-Am to offset another 100 afa of illegal diversions by putting programs in place to reduce the use of potable water for irrigation of landscaping. Other elements include programs to re-tool the water distribution system, impose a mo This leaves Cal-Am with the right to divert no more than 10,209af from the Carmel River in the current water year.

To concrete the Cease and Desist order against Cal-Am to halt the pumping of the Carmel Valley River Watershed by 2016, the San Clemente Dam, which created the San Louis Reservoir, was flagged for removal. Removal began June of this year, 2013. The Dam is California’s largest dam, being so, it is not obsolete and poses a risk of collapse during an earthquake. The withdrawal from the Reservoir ceased in 2002, when it was found to be too silted up with sand and gravel. Cal-Am, the owner of the dam, had two choices; shore it up for $49 million, or tear it down for $84 million. However, the National Marine Fisheries Service said it was” not likely to issue permits for the repair work because the dam blocked the migration of steelhead trout, a silvery fish protected by the federal Endangered Species Act.” In a project that will be watched by engineers and biologists across the nation, construction crews began a three-year, $84 million project to tear down the large landmark; California’s largest dam-removal project ever. The work will open up 25 miles of upstream tributaries and creeks so endangered steelhead trout can return to their historical spawning grounds.

The State Water Board has mandated a drastic cut in the pumping of the Carmel River. By 2016, water use will be cut by at least 50 percent from this source. The economic impact to the community is expected to be $1 billion annually. MPWMD has “been hard at work on river mitigation efforts, fish rescues and environment work to improve the knowledge and habitat of our watershed. The hard-working employees of the district can attest to the kudos received from the environmental community.” Currently Cal-Am and MPWMD have embarked upon a series of water-supply projects that would provide supplemental water to the Peninsula. The first, known as Water Project 1 “Aquifer Recharge and Storage Project” (ASR), which is an underground storage project, where excess flow of the Carmel River is pumped to the Seaside basin, deep into the ground for use during the summer months. In the water year 2009-10 1,111 acre-feet was pumped for use the fallowing summer. Water Project 2 is similar to Water Project 1. It is located at Seaside Middle School and is being built through a joint effort with California American Water. This will have a slightly higher capacity than Water Project 1. Water Project 3 is a small desalination plant at the Naval Postgraduate School. MPWMD and Cal-Am has just begun the layout and planning with the Navy and could supply a potential 2,000 acre-feet of desalinated water. Water Project 4 in conjunction with the Monterey Regional Water Pollution Control Agency involves purifying waste water and pumping the results into the ground for future use. Water Project 5 includes remedial work at Los Padres Dam and would be oriented toward supply and fish passage issues.

The result of the lengthy history with the County’s freshwater continues to be that of controversy and debate. A balance between consumer and supplier alike has yet to be found. Although there are many projects proposed and even in action, unfortunately due to the high volume of development all of these current projects could cause a 40% fee increase for Monterey residents. Whatever the resolution may be, there is pressure for an alternative source of freshwater other than the current Seaside Aquifer and the Carmel Valley River Watershed.






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