State order to stop overpumping the Carmel River elicits boos, cheers from Peninsula residents.
Thursday, April 3, 2008
If the state orders California American Water to reduce the water it pumps from the Carmel River by 50 percent over the next seven years, Peninsula hotels will shutter their doors and world-class golf greens will fade to brown. Small businesses will close, extended families of 30 will live in tiny spaces (desperately queuing up to use the one toilet) because no one will be allowed to build new houses and Pacific Grove residents will never get a car wash within city limits – maybe.
Or, perhaps, the Monterey Bay area will become a model of sustainability, where recycled water irrigates all golf courses and neither residents nor businesses need to water their properties because they are landscaped with drought-resistant, native plants. Cisterns and other collection systems will capture rainwater for non-potable use in laundry machines and toilets, which, of course will be low-flow (and all urinals will be waterless). Meanwhile the steelhead trout and other Carmel River critters will thrive.
The state Water Resources Control board heard both of these scenarios – and many others – at a meeting in Monterey on Tuesday, April 1. It met to hear public comment on a draft cease-and-desist order issued to Cal Am in January. If approved, the order will force the water company to drastically reduce the amount of water it pumps from the Carmel River.
Cal Am officials, city council members and others also will have their chance to protest the cease-and-desist order at an evidentiary hearing, on June 19.
The 2007 cease-and-desist order traces its roots to another state order issued 13 years ago, called 95-10 by anyone even ankle-deep in local water politics. In 1995, the state Water Resources Control Board ordered Cal Am to reduce the amount of water it pumped from the Carmel River aquifer. At the time, the water company was taking more than 14,000 acre-feet per year from the aquifer – 10,000 more than the state allows. (An acre foot is 326,000 gallons). The state told Cal Am to find a new source of water for Peninsula customers.
Since then, Cal Am customers have reduced their water use, primarily through conservation efforts. Four years ago, Cal Am proposed building a desalination plant in Moss Landing to provide a long-term water source. A draft environmental impact report on the project should be released by the end of 2008.
The new state order, however, says Cal Am hasn’t done enough to stop the illegal overpumping. Recently, the Monterey County Mayors’ Association, Assemblyman John Laird and state Sen. Abel Maldonado have urged the Water Resources Control Board to hold off on enforcing the draft order at least until the state Public Utilities Commission issues its draft EIR on Cal Am’s water project, and the PUC’s Division of Ratepayer Advocates completes its work on an alternate regional solution.
As with all water fights on the Peninsula, the April 1 meeting was politically charged and packed – with elected officials, environmentalists, developers, hospitality industry executives, homeowners and others.
“Yes, go forward with the cease-and-desist order,” said Nancy Pratt, a member of Citizens for Public Water, a group that spearheaded a public takeover of Cal Am in 2005. “For 13 years, Cal Am, the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District, Board of Supervisors, and Peninsula cities have allowed new construction and issued water permits. They have not taken state order 95-10 seriously.”
Bob Brower, a Peninsula water board director who owns Chateau Julien Wine Estate, urged the state to defer acting on the cease-and-desist order. “We are the lowest per-capita water users in the state,” he said. “Further cutbacks will really have a significant impact.
“The state seems to think we have not been doing anything for the past 13 years,” he continued, saying there are seven different projects in the pipeline, including various desal plants and other fixes. “If you want to punish Cal Am, punish Cal Am. Don’t punish the community.”