Sink Or Swim
Stark differences separate candidates for paralyzed water board.
Thursday, November 1, 2001
1995 was a big year for water on the Monterey Peninsula. The state water board announced that the California-American Water Co. was drastically and illegally overpumping the Carmel River in order to serve its Peninsula customers; the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District''s Board of Directors approved final plans for the New Los Padres Dam; and in November voters issued a scrambled message: they rejected a bond issue to build the dam--but elected supporters of the dam to direct the district.
No single year since has been quite as dramatic, including this one. The board is philosophically split 3-3 on most issues (Dave Potter, a swing voter, occasionally relieves the gridlock). That makes getting anything significant accomplished a challenge.
The board is neither able to go ahead with a dam or commit to exploring other options outlined in "Plan B," which the state Public Utility Commission released in September.
Tuesday''s election could melt the current board''s notorious immobility. One seat out of the board''s seven is up for grabs--District 2, which encompasses Seaside, Monterey and Del Rey Oaks.
Incumbent Ron Chesshire, business manager for Carpenter''s Local Union 605 and a dam supporter, seeks his second four-year term. Judi Lehman, an interior designer and seven-year veteran of the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District Board--and a dam opponent--would like to unseat him.
Some have declared the dam already dead--the current board opposes it 4-3, and at least one federal agency, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), has indicated strongly that it can and will prevent the dam from being built, because of the threat to Steelhead trout. But Chesshire''s platform calls for further study. He''d like to see if the dam can supply not just the water needed to halt the overdraft of the Carmel River, but additional water for the Peninsula''s future growth.
Plan B, he says--with its suggestions for desalination plants, groundwater injection, recycling and the like--gives the community a "false sense that we''re taking care of the problem" because it won''t meet additional needs.
These needs are obvious, Chesshire says:affordable housing means growth, and that means water. That said, Chesshire notes that "our mission is not to control growth. Our mission is to augment the water supply in this area."
Frustrated with the current board''s inability to deliver water, Chesshire even suggested in November 2000 that the entire water district be disbanded.
Challenger Judi Lehman, while preferring not to be categorized as anti-dam or anti-growth, favors "sustainable growth versus everyone trying to get the maximum of what they can have."
The dam as proposed, she says, is unfeasible because of environmental, financial and legal costs---the NMFS position alone would spell a costly lawsuit, she notes.
Instead, Lehman supports desilting current dams to make more storage room, exploring groundwater injection, and recycling water, a scenario that involves piping gray water to residents for watering lawns. She favors finding ways to allow rainfall to replenish the aquifer instead of letting rainwater run off pavement and into storm drains. She also likes desalination as drought-proofing; though it''s costly, she says, it''s one of few options not dependent on rainwater--and that includes a dam.
As for water for future growth, Leh- man thinks some of her suggestions can generate additional water.
But she also cites the need to reevalute plans that are on the books. Her would-be constituents, she says, are tired of golf courses and hotels. They want housing instead.
"There aren''t endless jobs, water and affordable housing," she says. "It''s time to wake up and work within our limitations."