This newspaper article about the impending water crisis in Monterey
Co. came via the West Coast connection today...thought it might
interest many of you, and not just in California. I know some folks
find it comforting to snicker about this happening "elsewhere." But
more of us than we care to realize rely on terrestrial hydraulics
that are changing rapidly thru human intervention.
I refer you also to Worldwatch Paper 132, /Dividing the Waters: Food
Scarcity, Ecosystem Heatlh, and the New Politics of Scarcity/, by
Sandra Postel, Sept. 1996.
By the way, the below-mentioned irrigation of recycled water project
is being questioned for its environmentally appropriateness or
sustainability. Please note also in this newspaper article that there
is no mention of soil health, including salinization of soil. Nope,
the article is on WATER, demmit, WATER, not SOIL. One crisis at a
time please, and don't confuse the facts with a big picture.
Journalism, like certain forms of science, can be reductionist in
focus to the point where it bumps up on meaninglessness.
(Who finds it interesting that natural flow of saltwater hydraulics
into pumped-dry places is described as the "invasion" but humans'
overdraft of freshwater capital isn't. Which I hope at least
illuminates my seeds-and-soil comment in relationship to the
capitalism question of the other day.)
------- Forwarded Message Follows -------
Slow Assault From the Sea
Threat to water supply finally on Monterey County agenda
Michael McCabe, Chronicle Staff Writer
Monday, August 24, 1998
For more than 50 years, Monterey County has been warned that its
water supply is under attack from the sea.
Year after year, saltwater from the ocean has seeped inward, filling
the aquifers pumped dry of freshwater by thirsty farms and expanding
But nothing was done about it, even though state water officials said
the county's seawater problems are probably the worst in the state.
County water officials now insist they have a remedy. In recent
weeks, they have embarked on a campaign to convince farmers and other
water users not only that their plan will work, but also that water
users should be taxed to pay for it.
The plan includes a project that uses recycled water to irrigate
crops -- the largest of its kind in California -- and the banking of
winter rains for summer use.
Farmers in and around Castroville, which proudly calls itself the
``Artichoke Capital of the World,'' are already nervous. Contaminated
water in recent years proved to be too brackish even for artichokes,
which are more salt-tolerant than most crops.
Seawater has intruded to within two miles of wells that supply the
city of Salinas, population 123,000. Seawater is now underlying
22,000 acres in northern Monterey County.
Another growing worry is nitrate contamination, caused by nitrogen
fertilizer from agriculture and wastewater disposal operations.
Elevated nitrate levels can cause methemoglobinemia, also known as
``blue baby'' syndrome, in infants.
The situation has gotten so bad that the state water board is poised
to intervene by ordering a drastic reduction in the amount of water
pumped out of the county's aquifers, virtually the only source of
``The seawater intrusion problem in Monterey County is probably more
severe than anywhere else in the state,'' said Ed Anton, chief of the
division of clean water programs for the state Water Resources
The 180-foot-deep aquifer in northern Monterey County is already
``fully intruded'' by seawater, said Stephen Collins, vice president
of Ocean Mist Farms, the country's largest artichoke grower. Now the
400-foot-deep aquifer that is the main water source for urban centers
such as Salinas, Marina, Seaside and Castroville is also becoming
polluted with seawater.
``If this aquifer becomes fully intruded with seawater, then that
will be even more serious than any threat to agriculture,'' said
Collins, who is also chairman of the Monterey County Water Resource
Agency Board. ``Because that will mean the drinking water of private
citizens will be affected, and that is where we get into the threat
of the state coming in and taking over. This is a very serious
But with signs that the county is finally getting its act together,
Anton said, the state is taking a wait-and-see attitude before it
steps in and orders water rationing.
Monterey County water officials say their plan will stop the invasion
of seawater. If carried out completely, they say it will ensure that
the county's $2.2 billion agriculture industry and freshwater supply
for residents will be protected at least until 2030.
RECLAIMED IRRIGATION WATER
Part of the plan is already in place. In April, the county's $75
million water reclamation program started pumping. It uses tertiary
treated wastewater from the urban centers on the Monterey Peninsula
and Salinas to irrigate crops in the agricultural fields, mostly near
The project, which is readily identifiable in the fields by its
magenta service connectors, is the largest of its kind in California
to use recycled water on food crops. It is designed to process nearly
20 million gallons of recycled water every day and will supply enough
recycled water to irrigate 12,000 acres of artichokes, broccoli,
lettuce and cauliflower. ``By providing this new source of water for
agriculture, we are dramatically reducing the amount of groundwater
pumping needed,'' said Mike Armstrong, general manager of the
Monterey County Water Resources Agency.
``This project will address 50 percent of the seawater intrusion
problem.'' But Joseph (Jody) Lyons, general manager of the
Castroville Water District, is less enthusiastic: ``The saltwater is
continuing to intrude into the land. All the recycling has done is to
provide the opportunity to slow the seawater down. It's not running
now; it's walking.''
STORING WINTER RAINS
Next month, the county is expected to roll out the details of other
projects estimated to cost about $40 million and designed to correct
the other 50 percent of the seawater problem. They will include
proposals for storing winter rainwater more efficiently by modifying
the spillways at Nacimiento Dam in the southern part of the county.
That will permit winter water to be available for summer use, rather
than allowing it to be discharged into the ocean.
The plan also calls for injecting some winter water back into
aquifers for storage and aquifer rejuvenation.
Monterey water officials say the banking project is expected to save
tens of thousands of acre-feet of water a year. (An acre-foot is
How all this would be paid for is still being discussed, but
Armstrong said those who benefit most from the new water sources
probably would pay proportionately more. He noted, however, that
Proposition 218, passed in 1996, requires voter approval before
property can be taxed for new projects.
PERSUASION STILL NEEDED
To combat the nitrate problem, the county plans to rely mainly on an
education program, hoping to persuade the nitrate producers to
voluntarily cut back. Already there are those who are critical of the
county water plan, wondering whether it will really work or is even
good for the county. Indeed, there is suspicion that all the projects
amount to a scheme to provide more water for growth in the form of
housing developments, many of which are already on the drawing boards
or pending final approval.
``We still wonder if there really is a crisis with seawater
intrusion,'' said Mike Weaver, a Monterey County resident who ran
unsuccessfully for county supervisor in June. ``We wonder if this is
not a way for them to get the taxpayers to pick up the tab to pump a
whole lot of money for development.''
Added Marina resident Mel Vercoe: ``Everybody is making grandiose
plans for development on the old Fort Ord lands and Marina. We are
supposed to believe that some tooth-fairy projects will supply the
water. It shouldn't take a third-grade graduate to notice that these
projects, and finding the money to build them, are simply not going
But, after nearly a half century of inaction, something must be done
and soon, said Leo Laska, general manager of the Marina Water
``I predict with a return of normal winter rainfall we will see
seawater intrusion continue,'' Laska said. ``And if that happens, we
will see saltwater roll right through the county, followed by state
officials taking over like a Mongol horde.''
SALTWATER CONTAMINATION OF WATER SUPPLY
Monterey County's water problems are among the most serious in the
state. As agriculture and urban development have increased, water has
been pumped from underground wells faster than it can naturally be
replenished by rainfall. Groundwater levels have fallen below sea
level, allowing seawater to intrude from Monterey Bay.
More than 120 wells west of Salinas have been closed because of
A THREAT TO WELLS
Due mainly to over-pumping, seawater has already intruded almost six
miles inland in the 180-foot aquifer and two miles inland in the
400-foot aquifer. The accompanying map shows the progress of seawater
as of 1995. Experts say it has progressed even farther since then.
Source: Monterey County Water Resources Agency
c1998 San Francisco Chronicle Page A1
Michele Gale-Sinex, communications manager
Center for Integrated Ag Systems
UW-Madison College of Ag and Life Sciences
Voice: (608) 262-8018 FAX: (608) 265-3020
In the end, they will lay their freedom at our feet
and say to us, 'Make us your slaves, but feed us.'
--the Grand Inquisitor, Dostoevsky
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