California American Water Desalination Facility


November 1, 2022

The Coastal Commission approved a coastal development permit for California American Water to construct and operate a 4.8 million-gallon-per-day (MGD) desalination facility in Marina. The plant would use subsurface seawater intake wells located within a CalAm easement in part of the CEMEX sand mining facility adjacent to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The desalination facility itself would be constructed inland of the coastal zone and would discharge processed saline brine to an existing outfall operated by the regional wastewater treatment agency, Monterey One Water. The proposed project has a controversial history involving multiple agency reviews, spawning at least 10 lawsuits, including several against the California Public Utilities Commission, and raising significant environmental justice concerns.While the Monterey Pure Water Expansion provides a feasible and less environmentally damaging alternative to Cal-Am’s Project in the near term, Commission staff concluded that the Project is needed in the longer term and therefore recommended approval of the project, a shift from their 2020 staff recommendation for denial.

Why You Should Care

Expansion of the Pure Water Monterey water recycling project is a much lessimpactful alternative and should be prioritized before resorting to desalination and its impacts. Pure Water Monterey Expansion would use less energy, would eliminate brine disposal altogether, and would be accomplished in a smaller footprint. Building desalination now is premature, and locks the peninsula into an expensive solution that will likely be eclipsed by future developments in desal technology.


Pro-Coast Vote

Anti-Coast Vote

While Monterey Peninsula developers, labor organizations and chambers of commerce supported the project, the environmental justice community of Marina, along with local water agencies, stood in strong opposition. Commissioner Caryl Hart pointed out that the Community of Marina has the most at stake due to the impacts of the infrastructure on its coast and the potential loss of aquifer drawdown by the subsurface slant wells. Commissioner Sara Aminzadeh stated that the environmental justice impacts are not adequately mitigated. Commissioner Linda Escalante stated that she sees the Pure Water Monterey project as sufficient to address the peninsula’s short-term water needs, and that the current project does not meet the standard of review. From the dias, Commissioners negotiated with the applicant and increased project mitigation by $3 million to go toward the community engagement and public access plan and added funding for a full time staff person for the City of Marina to work on all permitting and planning needs for the desalination plant over a period of ten years.

Organizations Opposed

Monterey One Water, Citizens for Just Water, local residents, Sierra Club California, Society for Native Nations, Desal Response Group, Social Eco Education, SoCal 350, Southern California Watershed Alliance, Environmental Justice Coalition for Water, Surfrider Foundation

Decision Type

Coastal Development Permit

Staff Recommendation

Approval with Conditions

Coastal Act Policy