Helping Our Peninsula's Environment


Can Combining Alternatives Solve Our Water Problem Without A Dam? 

Copyright 1995-1997 David Dilworth

This article originally ran in the Carmel Valley Sun in 1995. According to the publisher, Elizabeth Cowley, it was the most requested reprint in the newspaper's history. It is credited with spawning the six PUC Hearings on Dam Alternatives. Those Hearings resulted in a list of some 71 Alternatives which are linked below.

Combining Alternatives as a System

Dam opponents complain the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District has not looked seriously at combining all the water supply and use reduction alternatives. Elected Directors complain about some alternatives individually, but they are generally silent about combining alternatives to avoid a Dam. 

Here we examine whether 10 alternatives combined as a system could relieve the Peninsula's perennial water shortage without resorting to the bitter controversy of a Dam. 

As we found out - alternatives including the purchase of water from Ft.Ord and system leakage have not been examined. Others such as progressive rate schedules and dual plumbing have generated no estimates of the potential water benefit. 

To examine the benefit of alternatives we first need to know how much water is needed. So we find out how much water we use, then subtract how much we can legally pump. The answer is how much water we need to either produce or free up from the existing water "budget." (All numbers are in acre feet of water "af") 

How much do we use? In 1994, all of us in the Monterey Peninsula Water District used about 15,000 af and a little less - about 13,000 af in 1995. We'll use the larger number (15,000) to make this harder on the alternatives. 

But we could have used more water. Our legal Monterey Peninsula Water Allocation Limit is 17,619 acre feet. We can no longer legally use 10,730 af of Carmel River Water because of the State Water Board 1995 decision. So we subtract that from the legal limit.


(Acre Feet of Water)

Water we are permitted to use by 1990 Water Allocation Plan

Water we can no longer legally use (Order 95-10)

Remaining Water we can fully legally pump




Water we have to come up with:

1994 Peninsula Water Use 

Water we can legally pump






This means we need about 8,100 acre feet of water to solve our problem by filling the legal requirements of State Water Resources Order 95-10. 

Dilworth's Estimate

Water District Estimate

Pump more Water from the Paralta well.

Its potential without danger of overdraft could be 4,000 AcFt/yr. (1997 Editorial note: The Seaside basin's water table in the 1950's was above sea level. It is now down at about 300 feet below sea level - making current, let alone additional, pumping of the Seaside basin probably un-sustainable. This 500 - 1,000 af may not be possible.)

In Seaside 1990, the District estimated 500 to 1,000 acre feet of water might be available from the Seaside Basin from various methods including spreading out the pumping.

500 to 1,000

500 to 1,000

2. Buying Fort Ord's Water Rights

However the 2800 to 6600 acre feet of water rights at Ft. Ord could be obtained by the District from the Army / Department of Defense at low to zero cost. The Peninsula water shortage is a critical, urgent problem, Ft Ord reuse is neither.) About one third of the proposed re-use of Ft. Ord is within the Water District's boundaries.

"Don't know if Department of Defense is a willing seller." Some of the 6600 is guaranteed to CSUMB. There aren't any pipes connecting the Army's wells to the Peninsula's water system.

2,000 to 6,600


3. Dredge existing Los Padres and San Clemente Dams.

The two existing Dams have lost 2500 acre feet of capacity. According to Cal-Am VP Larry Foy speaking to Carmel's Soroptomists in October 1995 - "Dredging the dams and selling the material from the Dams can be done AT A PROFIT." After the Dam was voted down, Mr Foy paid for a study to tell him it would be too expensive to dredge. 

The State Water Board has ruled the San Clemente Dam must be dredged (1500 af to gain) whether the proposed Dam is built or not. 

A Swiss Dam is reportedly self-dredging.

"Cost is a factor in dredging." If you could clean the dams out there would be 2400 acre feet of storage.

Los Padres Dam - 900

San Clemente Dam - 1,500

Combined - 2,400

Los Padres Dam - 800 

San Clemente Dam - 1,600 

Combined - 2,400

4. Require all Peninsula Golf Courses to use Reclaimed Water

Each Peninsula golf course uses a minimum of 150 to 200 acre feet of water per year, some use 350 af per year or more. There is no reason the Laguna Seca and Navy School golf courses shouldn't be using reclaimed water - and the 500 - 600 acre feet of well water rights obtained by the District. Similarly the four golf courses in hot Carmel Valley (representing a minimum of 1200 acre feet per year must be investigated to see how they can be set up to use reclaimed water.

PG Golf Course & Cemetery could free up 100 acre feet. The (Hyatt) Old Del Monte Golf Course could free up 150 af. 

The two Fort Ord Golf Courses could free up a combined 400 acre feet. The Carmel Valley golf courses might contaminate our drinking water source if using reclaimed water. Laguna Seca and the Navy School golf courses all use their own wells, so no water would be freed up.

2,000 to 2,350


5. Reduced Water Pressure to Reduce Leakage

Current pressure is 80 psi(eighty ponds per square inch). System pressure could be dropped to 60 psi (sixty) and where needed supplemented with localized pressure boosters.

"The District hasn't looked at the hydraulics of the Cal-Am system"

500 to 1,500


6. Dual Plumbing - Retrofit and New Construction

Require new constructed buildings to be equipped with dual plumbing systems and underground tanks. According to former Water District Director Woody Woodworth, the roof on a home of 2000 sq.ft. could be designed to capture at least 10,000 gallons of water during each winter spring rainfalls. At 1.6 gallons per flush, that should be enough for a year's flushes.

"Yes there would be a savings. We don't know how much." We have no estimates. The amount is knowable, but I'm not familiar with the literature." Irvine Ranch (south of LA) was designed with dual plumbing from the first drawings.

1000 to 3000


7. Seaside Well Injection & Recovery

Pumping Water out of the Carmel River during winter rains and forcing it into the Seaside underground basin. Then pumping it out in the late summer and fall.



No-Dam, No Desalination Alternatives Combined - Total:

12,500 to 22,450+ acre feet
5,150 to 5,650 acre feet

8. Desalination

Rent or purchase a Desalination plant of 1000-3000 AcFt/yr to be maintained for operation only on a standby basis. 

Any size from 1,000 to 3,000 acre feet is possible.

"We're constrained by beach sand - not pipes." Up to three to five thousand acre feet per year is possible.

1,000 to 3,000

3,000 to 5,000

No-Dam Alternatives - Total:

13,500 to 23,450
8,150 to 10,650 acre feet

We need about 8000 acre feet of water per year to stop our illegal pumping and to protect our Carmel River and its fragile inhabitants. According to the Water District, combining alternatives will get us a minimum of some 5,000 acre feet and maybe as much as 5,600 af of water (5,600 is 70% of 8,111). That's without a Dam, without a Desalination plant without fixing system leakage, with zero benefit from the new charges for exorbitant water use - and without rationing! By adding a 3,000 acre foot Desalination plant we could get our needed 8,000 acre feet of water - and a little extra. 

Adding up the potential water benefit from reasonable alternate estimates gives us a minimum of 12,500 acre feet. That's half again as much water as we need today. 

If the highest combination of alternatives estimates are used - we could realize an additional 25,000 acre feet - about two times more water than we need. When this much surplus can be potentially realized, none of the combined alternatives needs to be maximized. Perhaps we'd decide to only dredge half the dams or half a dual plumbing retrofit. 

So it appears that combining alternatives can solve our water problem without a highly controversial Dam.

Alternatives not examined here include importing water from the Central Valley by pipe. Water importation would need (among other things like a federal contract) a reservoir (Dam) to store the water.

73 Alternatives from PUC Hearings

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