Peninsula water district board divided on regional water project agreement.
Thursday, April 1, 2010
The regional water project agreement doesn't have the almost-unanimous support its backers claim.
Curtis Weeks, Monterey County Water Resources Agency's boss, told media at a March 30 press conference that only one agency opposes the agreement: the Public Utilities Commission's Division of Ratepayer Advocates.
DRA says the agreement stiffs Peninsula ratepayers with the project's full $250 million to $450 million bill, letting the North County get a flood of new water without paying its fair share. DRA has also criticized a secret March 26 mayors' breakfast, where Weeks encouraged officials to put on a good public relations show of support for the agreement, even though they hadn't seen it yet.
What Weeks didn't mention: One big local player in the water game, the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District, is deeply divided over the agreement. The district board voted last week to back it on the condition that the district get a seat on the project's advisory committee, but that vote was apparently a narrow 4-3.
In an e-mail to "interested parties," water district board member Kristi Markey - writing as an individual and not on behalf of the board - explains why she and two other directors, Judi Lehman and Alvin Edwards, oppose the agreement. Her summary of objections follows.
- Issue #1 - The Peninsula pays for 100 percent of the plant, even though it benefits Marina and the Salinas River Basin.
- Issue #2 - Lack of public process, lack of due process on water rates.
- "Marina Coast Water District, Cal-Am, and the Water Resources Agency privately developed the agreement, which…determines terms for the operation of the project for the next 34-94 years…The details of the Water Purchase Agreement were made public on Tuesday afternoon, March 30th, and the parties expect to present a signed Settlement Agreement to the PUC judge on April 7th, giving local officials and the public only a week to learn and understand what this complicated, 90-page document means. Shouldn't people have more time to scrutiny the documents before locking ourselves into such a lengthy, expensive agreement?"
- Issue #3 - The plant is based on theory and modeling; test wells should be done before signing an agreement.
- "Whatever percentage of fresh water is drawn out - 30 percent, 40 percent - must stay in the [Salinas] Basin, at the Peninsula's expense."
- Issue #4 - Planning [and] litigation expenses should be borne by individual parties, not the ratepayers.
- "The other expenses, when read and understood altogether, cover every conceivable cost - disputes between WRA and MCWD, lawsuits against those agencies that are in any way related to the plant, challenges by ratepayers - the ratepayers pay it all!"
- Issue # 5 - The project contains unlawful provisions regarding exportation of water from the basin.
- "The Agreement states that during the first five years of plant operations, they will measure and average the fresh water taken from the ground…but then goes on to say that the average 'shall be deemed not to exceed 15 percent during the first five calendar years'… State law does not allow the parties to 'deem' a fact which is non-existent to get around the legal requirements. If the percentage is 20 percent …it cannot be 'deemed' to be 15 percent."
- Issue# 6 - The Peninsula has no authority over the operations of the plant.
- "The three parties who have authority over this project have no incentive to contain costs - it's not their money! The Peninsula should have authority in this project. and some ownership. A Joint Powers Agreement or some other formation could resolve that issue. The Advisory Committee which includes the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District has no authority; it can listen to information presented by the parties, make recommendations, but it has no ultimate authority."
- What Should We Ask For?
- "There is still time for the community to ask for fairness in this agreement…We should ask that no agreement be authorized by the judge or the PUC until the following occurs:
- Test wells should be operated for a period of at least one year, to better understand the potential fresh water/salt water mix.
- If the testing proves promising, the plant should proceed, but with a joint ownership agreement that grants partial ownership of the plant facilities to the Peninsula ratepayers, or at least Cal Am.
- The expenses for this plant be subject to the PUC's ratemaking procedures, and
- If ownership of the facilities remains 100 percent with Marina Coast and WRA, then at least Cal Am should have the right to keep the agreement going for 94 years; Marina Coast should not have the option to seek to terminate the agreement after 34 years.
Catch up on the regional water project's long, heated history at www.mcweekly.com/rwp.