10 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY january 11-17, 2024 www.montereycountyweekly.com In May 2022, Paul Sciuto, general manager of Monterey One Water, was under his house building a shed when he got a call from Brent Buche, then-general manager of the Monterey County Water Resources Agency. As Sciuto recalls it, Buche said something to the effect of, “The growers need water, now.” Monterey One Water, aka M1W, operates two water recycling projects known as Pure Water Monterey (PWM) and the Castroville Seawater Intrusion Project (CSIP), the latter of which was launched in 1992 after growers recognized that seawater intrusion into groundwater posed an existential threat to those growing crops along the coast (the project started delivering water in 1998). It’s a problem created by overpumping, as seawater inches inland—underground—to fill the vacuum, making the water unusable for irrigation. 2022 was a drought year—and it came after an even drier 2021—so ag fields were more parched than usual. Sciuto put out the word to M1W staff: Stop diverting water into Pure Water Monterey and start putting it toward CSIP, even though at the time Pure Water Monterey had a right to that water. “It seemed like the right thing to do,” Sciuto says. Did Sciuto get flowers from growers, thanking him for the help in irrigating their fields? “No, I got yelled at the whole year by people saying I was stealing water,” Sciuto says. “I cannot find a place where we stole water, but I found places where we gave [growers] some. Could my board have yelled at me and said, ‘Why are you giving water away?’ Yes. But if it happened today, I would still make the same decision.” Such is the line M1W walks every year as it both fills its contractual obligations and strives to do right by the community. There has been a lot of concern and, sometimes, misinformation surrounding Pure Water Monterey in recent years, as ag interests and Cal Am desal proponents argue that the project is taking water meant for growers, and that it’s not “drought-proof.” Part of that stems from the fact that the expansion of PWM, still underway, was concurrent with recent dry years when growers wanted more water than CSIP could deliver, as increasing water conservation means less water down drains. The latest salvo came in a Jan. 5 letter to M1W and MCWRA from Nancy Isakson and Christopher Bunn, presidents of the Salinas Valley Water Coalition and Salinas Basin Water Alliance, respectively. It asks for a detailed accounting of the source of waters flowing into M1W’s operation, and where the water goes that flows out of it. A chief concern expressed in the letter is that the agreements M1W has made with MCWRA to provide CSIP with water will be honored in perpetuity—as required in the agreement, MCWRA is entitled to all the treated wastewater it needs, but only if that water is available. And due to conservation, the available water has slowly been decreasing over time—there’s less water going down drains. As far as Pure Water Monterey not being drought-proof, that’s only true if, as Sciuto puts it, there are, say, 10 drought years in a row. If that happens, “We have a lot of problems all over the place.” Growers need water in drier months, which is when M1W ramps up its delivery to the project. In wetter months, that water is diverted to PWM, which is then injected into the Seaside Basin to be used when there’s demand for it. The PWM expansion is utilizing winter flows that would otherwise go out to sea. Water conservation is a reality that’s not changing, but the irony—if one can call it that—is the PWM expansion, theoretically, could increase the water going to growers in drier months. (CSIP has first right of refusal to most municipal wastewater; from fall to spring, those waters are mostly diverted to Pure Water Monterey.) The expansion of PWM could theoretically compel the state to lift the cease-and-desist order against Cal Am for overpumping the Carmel River, which in turn would facilitate new water connections on the Peninsula, which would create more water going down the drain—and therefore to CSIP—in the summer months. To date, Sciuto says CSIP has provided about 312,000 acre feet of water to 12,000 acres since 1998—water that would otherwise have been pumped from a critically overdrafted groundwater basin. Ara Azdherian, MCWRA’s general manager, thinks concern stems from a few things. One is a fear that historic users of water, or those who have primary rights to use it, will be edged out. Another is in the accounting of the source waters; there is a delta between what M1W says and what MCWRA and Cal Am say, per filings with the California Public Utilities Commission, and a concern that M1W’s assessment of supply falls short. “I don’t think this is about blame or disparagement,” Azdherian writes by email. “Rather, growers’ requests for source supply information is more about transparency, accountability, and an assessment of risk.” The Peninsula could get all the water it needs by recycling its own water—46 percent of the municipal wastewater flowing into M1W treatment plants come from the Cal Am or Marina Coast Water District service areas, totaling around 8,700 acre feet annually. That’s more than enough to supply PWM with 5,750 acre-feet annually and 600 for Marina Coast, per signed agreements. Curtain Call Recycled water to supply Peninsula raises eyebrows from Salinas Valley growers. By David Schmalz news Bloody Good Idea The American Red Cross is encouraging residents to fold up their sleeves and donate blood to replenish the blood bank. 9am-1pm Friday, Jan. 12 at Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1024 Noche Buena St., Seaside. 9am-1pm Tuesday, Jan. 16 at St. Mary’s by-theSea Episcopal Church, 146 12th St., Pacific Grove. Free. redcross.org/giveblood.html. language learned An eight-week class for adults on English as a Second Language features conversation, short readings and dictation, among other activities. 5:30-7pm every Thursday from Jan. 11-Feb. 29. King City branch of Monterey County Free Libraries, 402 Broadway Ave., King City. Free. 8837597, catalog.emcfl.org. Serve your city A great way to get involved in your community is by signing up for a local board, committee or commission. The City of Monterey has several vacancies, including on the Parks and Recreation Commission and Disabled Access Appeals Board, and is encouraging residents to apply. Priority review for applicants who submit their application by noon on Monday, Jan. 22. Apply online bit. ly/3tD8N2V or in person at City Hall, 580 Pacific St., Monterey. Free. 6463935, monterey.org/bcc. Pet fund SCAR, a South County animal rescue organization, is partnering with Salinas City BBQ to raise funds. A percentage of lunch and dinner sales will be donated to the nonprofit. Lunch and dinner on Thursday, Jan. 11. Use SCAR code while purchasing online at salinascitybbq.com or show a SCAR flyer (bit.ly/3vo46dA) at the restaurant. 525-5160, scar.pet. Open Registry The City of Monterey’s new rental inventory is now open for enrollment from all residential rental property owners. All are required to register, or request an exemption. Jan. 1- March 1 is the initial registration period. $50/per unit. For more information, call 646-3995 or visit monterey.org/rentalinventory. Play Time The City of Salinas wants to hear from residents on their preferred playground concept for Northgate Park. There are three options to choose from and cast your vote. Survey closes on Monday, Jan. 15. To vote in English, visit tinyurl.com/ ngparksurvey; to vote in Spanish, visit tinyurl.com/ngparksurvey. Free. 7587306, recreation@ci.salinas.ca.us. M1W General Manager Paul Sciuto pictured with the Pure Water Monterey system, one of two recycled water projects operated by M1W. The other, CSIP, serves agriculture. e-mail: publiccitizen@mcweekly.com TOOLBOX “If it happened today, I would still make the same decision.” Daniel Dreifuss