Are Cal Am’s proposals good for the county, or just Cal Am?
Thursday, July 2, 2009
It is high noon for public opinion about a new water supply. The state Public Utilities Commission will hold local public hearings on July 13 and 14 in Monterey and Seaside on three competing options, all designed to reduce the over-pumping of the Carmel River and the Seaside Groundwater Basin.
The competition is between two Cal Am proposals and the regional coalition plan. This can be viewed as a classic contest between private and public ownership, or a profit-based commodity versus public accountability for a public resource, or to decide which has the best plan.
Will there be any mention of Cal Am’s performance?
Cal Am has demonstrated an unbelievable disregard of broad community values.
In 2003, the PUC, noting that water supply issues were of interest not only to Cal Am customers but also to Monterey County as a whole, directed Cal Am to “thoroughly explore opportunities for partnerships with other regional water supply entities… and incorporate such partnerships in the project if appropriate.”
INSTEAD OF EXPLORING OPPORTUNITIES FOR PARTNERSHIP, CAL AM TRIED TO ELIMINATE COMPETITION.
However Cal Am’s proposed projects in Moss Landing and Marina have no partners, no site, no water rights and no community allies.
Cal Am has failed miserably in this charge from the PUC.
Instead of exploring partnerships, Cal Am tried to eliminate competition, promising the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District it could provide new water quicker than the district. In 2004, a new board majority was elected, and agreed with Cal Am. The district then abandoned its early desalination project work.
Cal Am also tried to change the county code requiring all desalination facilities be publicly owned. Records of the Board of Supervisors reveal at least six discussions with Cal Am officials between 2003 and 2007 to change the ordinance. This was set for a decision in March 2007. After a public hearing, the board referred it to staff and has not taken it up since.
If Cal Am is counting on a favorable decision by the PUC to force its plan into effect, it has another, more substantial, problem with the county.
Any changes in the county code must be reconsidered by the California Coastal Commission, which is not good news, since the county hopes to be done with planning changes after eight years with the General Plan update.
After the state ordered Cal Am to stop overpumping the Carmel River in 1995, the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District set water conservation goals for seven categories of users. Six categories reduced use, including residential, commercial, golf courses and more. Only one category failed to lower consumption – Cal Am’s responsibility for unaccounted for water (UAW). Cal Am has argued that it should be held to the industry standard of 10 percent, instead of 7 percent.
In fact, Water Management District documents show that UAW has averaged about 12 percent and jumped to over 13 percent in 2007, all well above industry standards. While everyone else conserves, Cal Am has failed.
In 2006, Cal Am announced with some fanfare that 20 percent of residential users accounted for 46 percent of residential usage, and that there would be a crackdown. What happened? There has not been a peep since then on usage data.
In May 2009, a PUC official (Administrative Law Judge Maribeth Bushey, in a proposed decision on the Cal Am General Rate Case) criticized Cal Am for inattention to conservation, and ordered a change in the rate schedule: “Since Cal-Am is under orders … to reduce its summer diversions from the Carmel River due to fish die-off, we are dismayed that the parties propose to continue a discount for using drinking water for residential landscape irrigation and to accept as ‘best practices’ the use of over 200 acre-foot/year of drinking water for golf course irrigation.”
The ALJ also encouraged Cal Am to take half of its hefty public relations budget and spend it on leaky pipes.
Cal Am should also be criticized for the deal it has made for 300 acre feet/year of new desal water from Sand City. It has proposed to reimburse Sand City for about 90 percent of all capital costs, at the asking price, all paid for by ratepayers. Neither Cal Am nor ratepayers will own a thing after 15 years.
Administrative Law Judge Bushey again criticized the proposed lease: “… we find that Cal-Am has failed to demonstrate that the terms of the lease are reasonable.”
So here’s the question: Can you trust Cal Am to manage your water and reflect your community values?