City of Marina Appeals Improper CPUC Approval of Key Environmental Document for Cal Am Desalination Project to California Supreme Court

The City of Marina has petitioned the California Supreme Court to review the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the Cal Am Monterey Peninsula Water Supply Project (Project) approved by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). The City asserts that the EIR is factually, scientifically and legally inadequate and fails to adequately consider the impacts of a large industrial desalination project in a protected coastal setting within a disadvantaged community.

The CPUC approval not only violates the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), but it flies in the face of long held values that our state has embraced for generations, said Marina Mayor Bruce Delgado.

The City is now considering the Projects coastal development permit and it requires an adequate EIR to fulfill its responsibilities. The Project EIRs current widespread inadequacies impair its use by all responsible agencies that are now required to use the environmental document in their own permit review processes. The City is asking the California Supreme Court to quickly find that the EIR is inadequate under CEQA and overturn its certification to prevent permitting bodies from issuing project approvals based on a deficient environmental analysis.

We are greatly concerned about the potential harm from this Project to our city, and it is essential that other regulatory agencies understand how completely flawed the EIR and CPUC certification is before they base their own permitting decisions on this document, said Delgado. The CPUC failed to fulfill its duty to protect our working-class community from anticipated severe impacts to our coastal ecosystem, our groundwater, and our own land use planning. It appears that they were in support of Cal Ams Project from the start and that has shaped their actions restricting communications with us, ignoring the adverse impacts of the Project to Marina, and ultimately rushing a decision in favor of Cal Am. They did not fairly or fully consider better water supply alternatives that could provide water to the Peninsula at a reasonable or lower cost and avoid adverse environmental impacts to Marina, which will bear the burden of the Projects construction and operation.

The desalination Project approved by the CPUC would use experimental slant wells almost completely located under the ground in the City of Marina, rather than under the ocean. These risky slant wells would extract approximately 16 million gallons per day of groundwater from the critically overdrafted Salinas Valley Groundwater Basin (which supplies 100 percent of the Citys drinking water) and export it after treatment to other Monterey Peninsula communities. Cal Am has no established water rights, or any likely path to obtain such water rights in the future, that would authorize it to extract water from this protected basin.

The CPUC also committed legal error by failing to consider results of an important new study by Dr. Rosemary Knight from Stanford University that provides a three-dimensional picture of the actual hydrologic conditions in this basin, and which clearly demonstrates how the slant well intakes will tap into a supply of fresh water and make the groundwater basin further susceptible to depletion and contamination. The CPUC did not revise and recirculate the EIR to include this new information as was required by law, and instead inexplicably concluded that the potential Project impacts to groundwater would not be significant. The CPUC also failed to adequately address environmental justice concerns despite the fact that the Project wells will take water from a disadvantaged community without providing any meaningful protection or mitigation.

Marinas filing highlights a litany of deficiencies in the EIR that the CPUC failed to make any attempt to resolve. The Commission did not fairly consider reasonable alternatives, and improperly concluded that environmental impacts in key resource areas “ including ESHA, terrestrial species, coastal ecosystem, marine species, groundwater resources and other areas “ would be less than significant.

This Project would likely cause irreparable harm to our city by damaging our local water supply and exposing our coast to significant environmental damage, none of which is adequately analyzed in this EIR, said Delgado. There are no Project benefits for the City of Marina, and no proposed mitigations that would address our many concerns. The CPUC is required to carefully consider Project impacts as well as reasonable alternatives to meet the Project goals, but they failed on both accounts. Their EIR review of impacts is one-sided, and their decision in support of Cal Am is based on an EIR displaying serious violations of CEQA.

for City of Marina
Alison MacLeod, 916-498-7730
[email protected]