"b" Is For "broke"
The long-awaited Plan B dam alternative is running on empty.
Thursday, June 8, 2000
Thirsty Peninsulans have been waiting with bated breath for the California Public Utilities Commission to pump out Plan B, the state-mandated alternative to the proposed Carmel River dam, since its expected arrival date in February. But they''ll have to wait a little longer, because for the time being, Plan B''s well has run dry.
"We ran out of money," Fred Curry, the PUC''s water advisory branch chief in San Francisco, says matter-of-factly.
The dam, or its alternative, has been in the works for over three years. California-American Water Company, which delivers water to about 100,000 Peninsulans, filed an application with the PUC to construct a new dam and a massive reservoir on the Carmel River in March 1997. Cal-Am needs approval from both the PUC and the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District to build the dam.
But the proposal has been drowning in a sea of controversy over growth and environmental concerns, and voters rejected a bond issue to finance the dam in 1995, leaving Cal-Am on hold but no less hopeful: Its application with PUC stands, but the commission won''t make a decision until the dam''s Supplemental Environmental Impact Report is released. The original EIR received over 1,000 pages of comments--a testament to the complexity of the project and the acrimony surrounding it--and is essentially being rewritten.
In September 1998, Assemblymember Fred Keeley authored legislation demanding that the PUC develop Plan B, a contingency plan should the proposed Carmel River Dam not be approved.
The PUC had originally estimated the development of Plan B would cost $750,000 and would be completed by February. But February came and went with no Plan B, and a series of public meetings scheduled to take place this spring never happened.
The sheer depth of information surrounding the project, Curry explains, has drained Plan B''s budget. Project consultants hired by the PUC needed time to absorb reams of data and years of history before they could even begin developing the alternatives. "A lot of money was spent just getting people up to speed," Curry says.
It was Cal-Am''s customers who forked over the first round of cash in the form of increased rates to develop Plan B. But because research conducted to develop Plan B could potentially benefit other communities, the PUC is asking the state to supply the extra $550,000 it needs to complete the project.
To date, Plan B consists of five possible components: ground water injection; piping in state-owned water from the Central Valley; recycling water and reclaiming storm water runoff; petitioning the state Water Resources Control Board for more water rights; and desalinating ocean water.
A report outlining the five components is complete, and Curry expects it to be released any day now. If all goes well, the PUC will hold public hearings locally on the components in July. After digesting public comment, the Plan B team plans to package the components into a set of scenarios and hold more hearings in August or September. After the different scenarios are analyzed, one will be chosen as Plan B. Economics will have a lot to do with the choice.
"What is the lowest cost scenario to get Cal-Am legal," Curry notes, "will probably decide Plan B."