CALFORNIA’S Coastal Commission faces steep budget cuts under the Trump administration. As reported in the Chicago Tribune, the “regulation-averse” government may cut $2 million in federal assistance to the agency—slashing 9 percent of its $22.4 million annual budget. Established by the California Legislature in the 1970s, the land use agency has the mandate to regulate development, increase public access to the shoreline, and protect delicate coastal ecosystems—from the Redwoods in the north to Los Angeles in the south. This work includes supervising local coastal programs and state and federal activities, providing project permits, investigating violations of the Coastal Act, creating education programs, and overseeing oil and gas projects.
Financial duress at the agency began in the early 1980s, when the Republican governor George Deukmejian sought to dismantle the commission, and reduced the agency’s budget by 50 percent. Since then, Governors Pete Wilson, Gray Davis, and Arnold Shwarzenegger have tried but failed to increase the budget. Further austerity will continue to have enormous impact on the already-strained agency. With staff numbers too small to meet the complex workload, the commission has difficulty carrying out its duties. For instance, its officials have managed to comprehensively review only about 15 of 92 approved local coastal programs—“the average age of which is now about 25 years.” This means that the plans often contain measures that do not comply with contemporary land use court regulations, permitting standards and procedures, and rapidly changing environmental conditions (i.e. pollution, coastal erosion, climate change). For instance, the commission’s 13-year delay in reviewing San Luis Obispo County’s coastal plan has resulted in 22 “significant changes” that adversely affect development plans. This includes the emergence of newly endangered species, more limited water resources, and the designation of the San Simeon fault as active.
It’s fair to assume that growing interest in desalination across California will necessitate the greater financial resources for the Commission, rather than fewer. Jack Ainsworth, the Commission’s Executive Director, has his work cut out for him. While facing the possibility of drastic budget cuts, he also has the directive to restore public trust after accusations of the agency’s cozy relationship with developers led to the dismissal of his predecessor, Charles Lester.
The California coast along the Crystal Cove Beach Cottages Credit: Allen J. Schaben/ Los Angeles Times
EARLIER this month, local politicians and water officials celebrated the groundbreaking ceremony for the $100 million Pure Water Monterey recycled water project. The innovative project will use not only wastewater, but also, stormwater, food industry processing water, and the impaired surface waters of California State. As soon as construction is complete in mid-2019, Pure Water Monterey will provide a clean and sustainable source of water for Monterey County residents and agriculturalists. California American Water will purchase the water for the county’s customers, easing reliance on the Carmel River. Supporting farmland irrigation in the Salinas Valley, the project will also reduce pressure on groundwater pumping which as caused seawater intrusion.
Cal Am expects to further diminish pressure on the Carmel River if it is able to proceed with its pending plans for a new desalination project.
ITALIAN COMPANY Fisia Italimpianti and the Spanish firm Abengoa are proceeding with their plan to design and build a plant in Saudi Arabia. The 250,000 cubic metres per day project, located on the country’s western coast in the Shuaiba area, will supply water to more than one million people in the cities of Mecca, Jeddah, and Taif. The companies, holding a joint share in the venture, expect to sign a Full Notice To Proceed (FNTP) by July 27, 2017, with completion scheduled for May 2019.
 Dan Weikel, “Coastal Commission is on a Shoestring Budget, and Trump Won’t Make it Any Better,” Chicago Tribune, <http://www.chicagotribune.com/la-me-ln-funding-coastal-commission-20170506-story.html> accessed May 13, 2017.
 Jim Johnson, “Pure Water Monterey Recycled Water Project Hailed at Groundbreaking, Challenges Remain,” Monterey Herald, May 5, 2017, <http://www.montereyherald.com/article/NF/20170505/NEWS/170509871> accessed May 13, 2017.
 For more information, see “Pure Water Monterey,” <http://purewatermonterey.org/> accessed May 13, 2017.
 Johnson, “Pure Water Monterey,” Monterey Herald.
 Tom Freyberg, “Fisia Italimpianti Bolsters Membrane Project Roster with Shuaiba SWRO,” Waterworld.com, May 12, 2017, <http://www.waterworld.com/articles/wwi/2017/05/fisia-italimpianti-bolsters-membrane-project-roster-with-shuaiba-swro.html> accessed May 13, 2017.