The California Coastal Commission voted 8-to-2 to approve a new desalination plant along the state’s central coast late last week. Drawing water from the Pacific Ocean, the California American Water plant in Monterey County would produce about 4.8 million gallons of drinking water per day when it begins operating.
The decision raises environmental justice concerns, however, and critics argue it is unnecessary and overly-expensive. On top of ecological risks, the plant will hike water bills by $50 per month, an average increase of about 50%, Cal-Am Water estimates. Water produced by the Monterey plant would cost more than twice as much as water from other desalination plants and is several times more expensive than advanced wastewater recycling.
“The simple fact the project is sited within a community that doesn’t want it and won’t benefit from it means that these impacts cannot be fully eliminated,” Kate Huckelbridge, a CCC senior deputy director, told the commissioners. The commission acknowledged the questions about environmental justice, given Marina’s “long history of having a disproportionate share of industrial facilities,” including a regional landfill, regional sewage plant, and the Fort Ord Superfund site. In a 157-page report, commission staff said the proposal presented “the most significant environmental justice concerns the Commission has considered since it adopted an Environmental Justice Policy in 2019.”
Despite the commission’s endorsement, the company must resolve ongoing litigation and obtain multiple permits before construction can begin. “If Cal Am is allowed to build their desal plant, and my water bill increases by 50%, I will have to choose between eating and buying water,” one commenter, Tammy Jennings, told commissioners. “No one should be allowed to make a profit on something we all need to live.” (CAL Matters, San Francisco Chronicle, E&E News, LA Times $, Mercury News)