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Marina to consider ruling to streamline process for desal plant project

A bid to avoid a lengthy permit process for source water sampling for a desalination plant on the Monterey Peninsula will get an expedited review.

Marina officials scheduled a special meeting of the city's Planning Commission to consider whether extracting water from bore holes to determine its mineral content qualifies as a "surface mining operation" under city code.

If the interpretation by California American Water and the state Public Utilities Commission is successful, it would allow the water company to avoid a potentially lengthy coastal development permit process and could allow water sampling to commence before the snowy plover season begins in March.

That, in turn, could allow an earlier release of the project's draft environmental impact report, which was postponed until November by a PUC judge earlier this week.

The special meeting was scheduled for Thursday after Peninsula mayors held a meeting to discuss the project's delays.

Marina Mayor Bruce Delgado said he and City Manager Layne Long agreed to the special Planning Commission meeting in an attempt to speed up the process. He said local officials generally agreed that if Cal Am were required to seek a coastal development permit, the water sampling would be delayed until October.

EcoFarm Conference founder: Organic industry not growing fast enough

The overall message of the annual EcoFarm Conference has not changed in 34 years — but the market has. Organic farming is now big business and the scrappy conference, which had an audience of 45 in its first year, now draws more than 1,500.

As evidence of the industry's growth, consider that Carmel Valley-born organic food producer Earthbound Farm was sold for $600 million this month. The industry is valued around $28 billion and is estimated to grow by more than 12 percent this year.

Still, the founder of the annual conference, which opens Wednesday at Asilomar Conference Grounds, says the organic food industry is not growing fast enough.

"Honestly, I imagined it was going to be much bigger much faster than it turned out to be," Amigo Bob Cantisano said.

Organics make up 4 percent of at-home food sales, said the Organic Trade Association. Cantisano said organic food is only mainstream for urban, educated people "of means."

"The majority of it is consumed on the coast," he said. "... You don't even have to go very far from Monterey to find a total lack of it. You have to look long and hard if you get to Greenfield or King City."

Still, the conference continues to grow considerably.

Sustainability gains momentum in produce industry

Approaches vary from company to company, but, as a whole, the produce industry seems united in its desire to become a “greener,” more sustainable enterprise in 2014.

Kingsville, Ontario-based hothouse vegetable grower-shipper Mastronardi Produce Ltd. wants to advance its Green Grass Project in 2014 in an educational direction, said Daniela Ferro, Mastronardi spokeswoman.

Cal Am's choice for a desal plant contractor gets through another hoop

Massachusetts-based CDM Constructors Inc. has been confirmed as the unanimous choice to design and build California American Water's north Marina desalination plant.

On Wednesday, the public governance committee charged with oversight of Cal Am's proposed Monterey Peninsula Water Supply Project agreed with Cal Am's recommended choice of CDM as the lead contractor for the desal plant project.

While a final deal needs to be negotiated between Cal Am and CDM, selection of a contractor is considered a major step forward for the project, especially because its predecessor — the failed regional desal project — never reached this milestone.

Carmel Mayor Jason Burnett, who represents the Monterey Peninsula mayors water authority on the committee, called the approval an "incredibly important decision for the future of water on the Peninsula."

The committee's unanimous vote followed recommendations earlier this week from the Peninsula water authority and Monterey Peninsula Water Management District boards, which both held meetings on Monday to allow the public to weigh in on the choice.

Drought preceded by inaction

When I was in college I read a remarkable book titled “Cadillac Desert” by the late Marc Reisner. When I set it down I remember thinking that water issues in California were going to hit a hot mess of a crisis sometime during my lifetime.

Actually I didn’t use the words “hot mess.” My vernacular was a tad more raw during those years. But my premise is proving correct. Unless I get hit by a car sometime soon — I live in Salinas so that is a distinct probability — I will live to see a catastrophe unfold.

I spend most of my day, every day, listening to scientists and water experts explain the complexities surrounding water — conserving it, channeling it, storing it, protecting it and on and on. And every day the pit in my stomach expands. The challenges we face seem overwhelming. Mother Nature is pitching a no-hitter with this drought, and climate change is making a real impact on California and the rest of the western United States.

The Elders of Organic Farming Gather at Esalen - NY Times

Among the sleek guests who meditate and do Downward Facing Dog here at the Esalen Institute, the farmers appeared to be out of place. They wore baggy jeans, suspenders and work boots and had long ago let their hair go gray.

For nearly a week, two dozen organic farmers from the United States and Canada shared decades’ worth of stories, secrets and anxieties, and during breaks they shared the clothing-optional baths.

Sustainable Seaside meets Tuesday

Sustainable Seaside hosts a planning meeting to review the organization's accomplishments in 2013 and plan projects and activities for 2014. 

Soup and bread will be provided. Please bring your own bowl and spoon. The meeting will be held 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Peace Resource Center, 1364 Fremont Blvd., Seaside.

Carmel Valley residents voice myriad concerns about proposed Carmel Canine

When John Ford woke up this morning, he probably knew he was in for a tough day. Ford, a senior planner with the county, was tasked with leading a site visit to the proposed Carmel Canine Sports Center (CCSC), a project fraught with controversy in a valley fiercely protective of open space, increased traffic and water use.

As about 50 people gather around him at the entrance of the proposed project, Ford delivers his first piece of bad news. “We brought a bullhorn, we brought batteries for the bullhorn, but we don’t have a critical part to the bullhorn.”

Profiles highlight Santa Cruz County agricultural and environmental stewards

A series of profiles by the American Farmland Trust showcases seven Santa Cruz County farmers among 45 statewide who have introduced innovative conservation practices.

The profiles highlight a range of projects, from water quality and supply to soil conservation and pollinator protection, and are designed to promote beneficial environmental practices statewide.

Edward Thompson Jr., California director for the American Farmland Trust, said the profiled operations are tackling issues critical to the viability of the state's agricultural industry as well as helping make environmental stewardship part of the California brand.

Big Sur fire destroys at least 15 homes, including the fire chief's

A wildfire in the Pfeiffer Ridge area along California's iconic Big Sur coast grew slightly overnight and is now 5 percent contained, officials said Tuesday morning.

The fire near state Highway 1 has consumed about 550 acres, 50 acres more than the previous estimate. About 400 firefighters are now battling the fire that has burned at least 15 homes and forced 100 people to evacuate since sparking around midnight Sunday.

Stephanie Locke-Pintar: We all can take steps to conserve water

As many residents and businesses know, the Monterey Peninsula has been experiencing one of the driest years on record. Last week Gov. Jerry Brown proclaimed a state of emergency in California because of the drought conditions. Thankfully our community has historically been water-wise and has utilized Stage 1 Water Conservation practices for the past 15 years. We have also continued to support a robust water conservation program that helps to ease the burden on our already-strained supply.

Beyond the daily efforts we make as individuals, Stage 1 Water Conservation involves reducing water waste and unnecessary water use.

FREE Workshop for Landscape Professionals

Thursday, January 23rd - 8:30 am—12:30 pm, San Benito County Water District.

This workshop covers the basics of sprinkler selection and adjustment, as well as pipes, fittings and gluing. Lateral line repair and tips as well as sprinkler problems, maintenance tips and irrigation scheduling. The workshop will be structured as a classroom lecture combined with hands on training.

Juan Garcia will be the instructor for this class. Juan has a Bachelor’s of Science in Horticulture from Cal Poly Pomona and has been active in the irrigation and green industry for over 15 years. Juan is also a professional instructor for Metropolitan Water District’s California Friendly Landscape Training Program and is fluent in Spanish and English.

To reserve a seat call (831) 637-4378 or email Shawn Novack at

Monterey planners to consider apartment/retail project

A major mixed-use project on Lighthouse Avenue and several more open-air seating proposals on Alvarado Street are being recommended Tuesday to the Monterey Planning Commission.

Developer Carl Outzen is seeking approval for a 32-apartment-and-retail project on several parcels now occupied by nine vacant, dilapidated buildings in the 200 block of Lighthouse Avenue and Foam streets.

He is proposing two three-story buildings with upper-story residential units and ground floor commercial-retail space. The residential units would be one- and two-bedroom units.

Santa Cruz begins early planning for deeper water restrictions

Receiving just 10 percent of average rainfall since July, the Santa Cruz Water Department announced Friday it has begun planning for the possibility of water rationing for the first time in nearly a quarter century.

With the San Lorenzo River, the primary water supply, flowing at low levels unseen since 1991, Santa Cruz faces the potential of a third consecutive dry year. Average rainfall, recorded from July to June, is typically 12 inches by this point of rain year, but so far only 1.3 inches has been recorded.

A History of Santa Cruz's Desal Fight

We don’t know how 2014 will go or how much rain we’ll get. But one thing looks pretty certain: It won’t be the year of desalination.

Santa Cruz is getting ready to accept applications for a water panel, now that the city council has agreed to stop pursuing desal once the environmental review is finished. And so, we bid goodbye to an entertaining era in city politics. The argument over desalination was full of public relations games and passive-aggressive shots taken by both sides. Here’s a look at the timeline that got us here.

Status quo on FORA board, as Marina decides not to make a change

The city of Marina didn't change its lineup on the Fort Ord Reuse Authority, after all.

Council members Frank O'Connell and Gail Morton will remain on the FORA board in 2014 as the city's representatives.

Still, a dispute has been put to rest between FORA and Marina about O'Connell, the reuse agency first vice chairman, and his desire to attend a closed-door deposition in a lawsuit between the two local governments.

Marina and FORA are in litigation about competing claims of ownership to the Preston Park tract of former Army housing in Marina. The city sued FORA in June 2012 to block a FORA sale of Preston Park. Marina contends the city should get ownership of the housing from FORA under original terms of the base closure.

Santa Cruz County water officials unite in drought response

With one local water district on the cusp of going dry and most considering steep cutbacks in water use, county water officials Tuesday joined in a show of unity as Santa Cruz County addresses a statewide drought that threatens everything from endangered species to local farming.

"Realistically, this is a shared issue that all of our districts are facing, not just in this county but in the region and state," Board of Supervisors Chair Zach Friend said, stressing the impacts of the drought would be significant. "We all are in this problem, and all, therefore, in the solution together."

County elected officials, city officials and local water district representatives joined for a press conference on the steps of the county courthouse. Many districts have passed or are considering voluntary 20 percent cutbacks in water use, following a call by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Biologist talks fish, desal and environmental impact in Santa Cruz -

Biologist Don Alley wants people to bridge the connection between the health of local salmon species and the health of the river.

"Although Santa Cruz is a liberal culture and they seem to be enlightened in so many ways, I think there's a disconnect between the fish and their use of water," said Alley, a biologist who has monitored fish populations and habitat conditions in central California watersheds and lagoons for decades.

Alley led a group of more than 50 people along the San Lorenzo River Saturday afternoon, lecturing about two salmon species -- steelhead and coho -- and their life cycle in the river.

Central Valley sinks as parched farms wring water from aquifers - Environment & Energy Publishing

A large swath of Central Valley is sinking as farms pump groundwater in the face of searing drought, sparking a scramble for solutions as forecasts show no end to dry conditions.

So says the U.S. Geological Survey, whose research shows land near the San Joaquin River sank by nearly a foot per year from 2008 to 2010, one of the most dramatic rates ever measured in the San Joaquin Valley.

Plans for Santa Cruz County's Scenic Rail Trail chug along

The Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail is now closer to becoming a reality thanks to the approval of $5.3 million in funding.

At its Thursday, Dec. 5 meeting, The Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) voted to approve $14 million in state and federal funding for 26 projects. This includes $5.3 million for three sections of what’s known colloquially as the Rail Trail. Those segments include a 2.4-mile portion from Natural Bridges Drive to the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf, a stretch from Fifth to Seventh avenues along East Cliff Drive in Twin Lakes and a portion connecting Lee Road to the slough trail system in Watsonville.

“We’re very excited,” says Karena Pushnik, a spokeswoman and senior planner with the RTC. “This is really our long-awaited kickoff moment.”

When completed, the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail Network will provide connections to coastal access points and other destinations for bicyclists, pedestrians and other non-motorized travel via a trail network that is mostly adjacent to the Santa Cruz branch rail. The Santa Cruz County Sanctuary Interagency Task Force originally conceived the two-county pathway project, which will connect Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, and it’s been championed by Congressman Sam Farr.

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