About six miles south of the ghost desalination plant in Marina, the mechanical whir coming from a nondescript cinderblock building in a Sand City industrial park is the only evidence that the state's sole operating municipal desalination plant is at work.
The $14 million facility has the ability to produce up to 600,000 gallons a day of drinkable water for the town of about 340 people. Sand City's plant now produces half that amount each day; a third is used by the city with the rest sent elsewhere in Monterey County.
City leaders hoped to develop the former military town into an artsy, Bohemian beachside destination. With no other possible water options, they turned to desalination. "We're just like Saudi Arabia. There's nowhere else to get water and we want to develop," said Richard Simonitch, the city's civil engineer.
It's not that easy in Monterey Peninsula, where regional water use from development has exceeded its yearly rainfall replenishment and desalination is one of the only options available.
Proposals have been fraught with mistakes, political infighting and scandal, and have cost Monterey area ratepayers tens of millions of dollars.
Earlier this year, state utilities regulators rejected Monterey County's desalination plan, citing problems with environmental review. The plan was also mired in alleged corruption by a county water official, who now faces criminal charges.
Still, desalination will be an important part of the Central Coast's future: the state ordered water suppliers to stop drawing from the Carmel River, its main source of the precious resource, starting in 2017. Even officials in Marina, with its shuttered plant, see a future in which demand will require their current desalination plant to resume operation and are planning another, larger plant to help make up for the expected water loss.
"Water politics in Monterey County is a blood sport," said Jim Heitzman, general manager of the Marina Coast Water District.
Chang reported from Los Angeles; Elliott Spagat in San Diego contributed to this report. Jason Dearen can be reached on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/JHDearen.
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