Carmel River – Relaxed cutback order proposed – 2017 deadline would be replaced by gradual ramp-down

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Carmel River

Relaxed cutback order proposed

2017 deadline would be replaced by gradual ramp-down

By  Jim Johnson
jjohnson@montereyherald.com
@jimjohnson_MCH on Twitter

Monterey – A Monterey Peninsula bid to relax the state-ordered cutback in Carmel River pumping would request credit for already realized pumping reductions and river improvements as part of an extended ramp-down.

According to a proposal announced by Carmel mayor Jason Burnett at Thursday night’s Peninsula water authority meeting at Monterey City hall, local officials would ask the state water board to back off the existing cutback order set to take full effect by the start of 2017. Instead it asks the state water board to recognize the Peninsula’s success in cutting river water use by 1,000 acre feet per year quicker than it was supposed to and its efforts to enhance the river’s health through projects already underway, including the San Clemente Dam removal.

Under the proposal, the Peninsula would agree to maintain the 1,000 acre feet per year reduction starting in the 2015-16 water year, which begins in Oct. 1, and receive credit for the river projects in the 2016-17 water year. In subsequent years, the Peninsula would be required to meet a series of milestones related to the construction of a new water supply projects, including California American Water’s desalination plant, or it would face additional cutbacks of 1,000 acre feet per year.

Peninsula officials have been discussing a relaxation of the cutback order since early last year because Cal Am’s project has been delayed several times and won’t be ready to provide a new water supply until two years after the cutback deadline. Experts have predicted implementation of the cutback would result in fines or the loss of billions of dollars in economic activity on the Peninsula.

Burnett said he has been discussing details of a potential relaxation of the cutback order with the state water board staff since an earlier proposal was rejected in November, and suggested there could be an opportunity for agreement.

“Forcing us into mandatory water rationing isn’t in anyone’s best interest,” he said. “This would be a stair step rather than a cliff. We’re all in this together and it would be residents and businesses that would be hurt by (the cutback order).”

Burnett said the water authority and the community would be provided plenty of time to review the proposal before it would be submitted to the state water board, either in late spring – after release of the desal project draft environmental impact report – or the fall – after the state Public Utilities Commission’s expected approval of the desal project.

Sand City mayor David Pendergrass said he believed the state water board would remain determined to implement the cutback order on schedule and the proposal was too optimistic.

Pacific Grove mayor Bill Kampe said the proposal would need to allow the state water board to claim victory and was worth a try, a sentiment echoed by Monterey mayor Clyde Roberson, who noted the alternatives are litigation or political pressure.

Also Thursday, Cal Am engineering manager Ian Crooks said he believes the desal test slant well project is still on track to be completed by the late February deadline despite some technical challenges, adding that he expects an initial test well data report within two months of the test well staring operations.

A pair of lawsuits, filed by the Marina Coast Water District and Ag Land Trust, seeking to halt the test well project are pending in Santa Cruz County Superior Court.

Jim Johnson can be reached at 726-4348

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