Way to Flow
Questions and solutions for the regional water plan.
Thursday, July 8, 2010
Alot of people on the Monterey Peninsula know a lot about the proposed Regional Desalination Project. The Public Participation Hearings held last week by the California Public Utilities Commission proved this beyond doubt. People from just about every social, political and financial sphere the Peninsula has to offer stepped to the lectern, gave well-informed testimony, and asked the CPUC to fix the project’s most glaring problems.
In their grasp of project details, the public was well ahead of many political and business leaders. That they were caught off balance by the public’s thoughtful, nuanced aproach is not surprising, since, along with some of the local press, they had been loudly calling for approval of the project “as is” for several months, while dismissing anyone who raised questions about the details as a no-growther out to sabotage any solution to the Peninsula’s water problems.
MOST OF THESE CHANGES COULD BE ENACTED WITH THE STROKE OF A PEN.
The credit for enabling this “informed citizenry” goes chiefly to the CPUC’s Division of Ratepayer Advocates. It has energetically championed the interests of Cal Am ratepayers throughout the process, clearly identifying the critical problems and making information widely available. Due to their work, people at the hearings understood that the real issue is not whether the CPUC will approve the Regional Project, but whether the CPUC will let stand the patently unfair agreements that require Peninsula ratepayers to pay nearly the entire cost of desalting water for new development in Marina and Fort Ord, that fail to impose meaningful cost controls on the project, that leave Cal Am ratepayers on the hook for all but a tiny fraction of project costs without giving them any control over how the project is run, and that don’t do enough to ensure the Monterey Peninsula will actually receive the water it needs and is (over)paying for.
Thanks to informed public input, the CPUC now knows that Cal Am ratepayers understand these problems and want them solved. At a minimum, I hope the CPUC will require modifications to the Settlement Agreement and Water Purchase Agreement that include:
• Effective Cost Controls. These should hold costs within the normal range for desalinated water, with costs in excess subject to a PUC finding of reasonableness.
• Assurance of Adequate Water Delivery. The proposed intake wells are sited so as to draw a brackish mixture of seawater and Salinas Valley groundwater into the plant, but there is a real danger that the percentage of Salinas Valley water captured by the wells will end up being too high. Since this water cannot be transferred out of the Salinas Valley groundwater basin, Cal Am ratepayers could end up paying to desalt still more water for Marina customers, while receiving less than is needed to offset the illegal diversions from the Carmel River. This would defeat the whole purpose of the Monterey Peninsula’s involvement in the project, but can be easily avoided. Drilling slant wells in the direction of the ocean would reduce the risk of overpumping groundwater and ensure that sufficient water can be legally delivered to the Monterey Peninsula.
• Equitable Cost Sharing. If the Marina Coast Water District is going to get 16.2 percent of the water, it should pay 16.2 percent of the Project’s total cost. If they don’t want the water, it should be sold to someone in the Salinas Valley groundwater basin who does. If no one in the Salinas Valley groundwater basin wants to pay for water from this project, then we shouldn’t be drawing water out of their basin in the first place. In any event, the Cal Am ratepayers should not be asked to pay to desalt water for other communities.
• Accountability. Control over the project should be proportional to investment in the project. Under the current proposal, Cal Am ratepayers will pay almost all project costs, yet have no control over it whatsoever. A joint powers agency needs to be set up to give ratepayers real control over the project in proportion to their investment. The current effort by Peninsula mayors to gain a seat for themselves on a toothless advisory committee is not enough – not least because many Cal Am ratepayers live outside the Peninsula cities and have no mayor.
Most of these changes could be enacted with the stroke of a pen and none would require delaying the project. Fixing the problems now is important. Once the deal is finalized, the contract terms could be locked in for as long as 94 years. If you haven’t done so already, this is the time to make your voice heard. Read the Division of Ratepayer Advocates’ detailed critique at www.dra.ca.gov/DRA/h20/ and send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Public Advisor, CPUC, 505 Van Ness Ave., Room 2103, San Francisco, CA 94102.