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California’s future will soon be found down in Monterey

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POSTED July 6, 2010 1:58 a.m.
Monterey - the birthplace of California government - was chosen by the Spaniards for that dubious honor in 1777 due to the great natural bay and the ample fresh water from the nearby Carmel River.

The seaside enclave is where Father Junipero Serra seven years earlier had established the second of California’s 21 missions before moving it a year later to the Carmel Valley.

Those toiling amid twisted pines, stunning beaches, and gently fogged enshrouded hills and valleys gave birth to California’s unique breed of bohemians. Their ideas, writings and art helped give birth to the concept that this state is forever on the cutting frontier of the United States’ expansion against physical and mental limits. Spend some time in Monterey, Carmel or nearby Big Sur and you’ll be convinced man working in unison with nature - and taking great care not to alter her creations - can do just about anything

It is here that the American flag was first raised on July 7, 1846. When California gained statehood in 1850, the state capital was moved to San Jose marking the start of the decline of the Monterey Peninsula’s influence on California’s public affairs.

Monterey is about to again help shape California’s future with a bold move that could set the tone for the Golden State’s next 250 years.

A $500 million project to build a desalinization plant that will by the end of 2014 send water siphoned from the ocean and stripped of salt flowing through taps is now underway.

It is being done out of regulatory necessity as well as the result of the folly of over drafting aquifers and over committing surface water supplies.

Unlike much of California from San Francisco to the north to Los Angeles and San Diego to the south and countless communities and massive farm regions in between that rely on water transported hundreds and hundreds of miles away to meet the insatiable needs of people, farming, and industry the Monterey Peninsula is on its own.

State regulators late last year ordered Monterey County’s main water supplier for 100,000 people - California American Water - to slash its diversions from the Carmel River by 70 percent by 2016. The goal is to restore flows in the Carmel River in a bid to save the embattled steelhead.

Desalinization isn’t a cheap option. It could easily triple California American Water bills for typical ratepayers as it may send the cost of water itself to over $8,000 per acre foot.

There is no major hue and cry over the desalination plan and its hefty price tag. That’s because almost everyone sees the writing on the wall even if there wasn’t a need to save the steelhead.

Monterey could be the precursor to many more desalination plants in California.

They are the only way the arid coastal cities of Los Angeles San Diego can maintain what they have as well as sustain growth without devastating California’s vital agricultural industry or turning the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta that now is teeming with wildlife into the 2st Century version of Owens Valley after that Eastern Sierra watershed was engineered to feed Los Angeles’ never ending thirst.

 The California Legislature would be wise to keep a close watch on the Monterey effort as it offers the best solution to date for trying to develop a Delta water policy that makes sense at least in terms of the supply side. They also need to devise whatever law modifications need to make it relatively quick and easy to cut through red tape to build more desalinization plants in the south state.

It would be a great help if let’s say by 2020 California’s massive coastal cities would stop relying on interior California water to increase their water supply.

Higher priced water - which desalinization plants will produce - will go a long way to getting Southern California residents to end the folly of using water as if they are in Seattle instead of on an arid, costal plain.

It would also be an incentive to pursue a much maligned but cheaper alternative than desalinization - the upgrading of wastewater treatment plants to effectively recycle treated and cleansed wastewater for domestic use.

Sacramento leaders may indeed need to go back to where the state of mind known as California literally was born to help solve the state’s most perplexing problem.
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