Progress, Not Profit
Cal Am favors cooperative solutions to water dilemmas.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
At California American Water, our mission is to provide the Monterey Peninsula with clean and healthful water in the most cost-effective and environmentally responsible method possible. Last week, a commentary published in this space (“Water Wars – Are Cal Am’s proposals good for the county, or just Cal Am?) asked readers to believe we’re not doing any of these things, and that California American Water can’t be trusted.
But I think our company’s 90 Monterey County employees do an amazing job ensuring we all have water for cooking, cleaning, landscaping, fire-fighting, public-health needs and all other aspects of our lives that require water. And they manage to do it despite some very substantial challenges.
The most obvious, of course, is the lack of a reliable supply. With state and judicial restrictions on our water sources, operating the complex system that serves this community – including 680 miles of pipes – proves to be a daily balancing act. But we bring experienced professionals to the task and succeed in our mission to deliver high-quality water on demand.
The solution is the development of a new water supply. After years of study by government agencies, we are finally nearing the point where a water project could be approved. The California Public Utilities Commission is currently reviewing our proposal, the Coastal Water Project, for a desalination facility at Moss Landing, along with several alternatives, including a desal plant in Marina and a regional project that combines a variety of technologies. The CPUC expects to make its decision in March 2010. There will still be many more permits needed before construction can begin, but the CPUC decision is important because it will determine what the project will be.
The author of last week’s commentary, George Riley, described the relationship between the various project alternatives as a “competition,” and implied that our company is trying to undermine a regional solution. He is wrong. This community urgently needs a new water supply, and California American Water will support whatever option that is accepted by the community, environmentally sensitive, affordable to our customers and meets the replacement requirements of the Carmel River and Seaside groundwater basin.
He questioned our commitment to water conservation, alleging that we provide discounted rates for outdoor water use. Perhaps he thinks no one should be allowed to do any outdoor watering. But our rates, set by the California Public Utilities Commission, allow a small amount of water for either indoor or outdoor use at low rates. If people exceed that amount, their rates go up. This system has been instrumental in achieving a more than 30 percent reduction in water consumption.
When you read about restrictions on pumping by Cal Am, you may get the impression these restrictions just apply to our company. But it is the community – our customers – that controls our compliance. And this community has done an outstanding job. Everyone deserves credit for our remarkably low water use, from the golf courses that irrigate with recycled water and hotels that have retrofitted with low-flow appliances, to the residents who maintain drought-tolerant landscapes, take shorter showers and think about the impacts to the river before turning on their taps.
Mr. Riley claims that we have not done our part to save water by sufficiently reducing our leaks. Our non-revenue water, at 12 percent, includes not only water lost to leaks, but water used in our treatment process, for fire-fighting, dust control and other non-metered uses. The American Water Works Association Research Foundation reports that in an efficiently run water utility, non-revenue water should not exceed 15 percent.
Of course, the most effective way to reduce leaks is replacement of older water mains. We asked the CPUC for permission to invest $39 million in upgrades to aging pipes throughout our system. But the CPUC must weigh the rates our customers will pay for conservation and a new water project with our infrastructure needs. In short, they must decide to fix leaks or keep water rates low and have historically sought a compromise.
Since 1966, our commitment to the Monterey Peninsula has been to be its trusted water provider. This community can trust Cal Am Water to deliver safe drinking water, to do everything we can to secure a new water supply and to continue to act as a community partner in efforts to save water.
CRAIG E. ANTHONY is general manager of California American Water.
The CPUC’s public hearings on the Coastal Water Project will be held 2pm, 7pm July 13 at Monterey Council Chambers, 580 Pacific St., Monterey; 2pm, 7pm July 14, at the Oldemeyer Center, 986 Hilby Ave., Seaside. For more information call the CPUC at (866) 849-8390.