Hush-Hush Puppies and Coffee
Power-player breakfast hints at the BFD that is the Regional Water Project settlement.
Friday, March 26, 2010
Munching on cantaloupe and croissants at 7am Friday, a group of 18 Monterey County officials checked in on what could be a game-changer in the Peninsula water supply saga.
The meeting leads up to the March 30 release of the Monterey Regional Desalination Agreement, a proposed settlement that lays out operational details for the Regional Water Project, including what entity will own the plant and who will pay for the water it produces. Although the details of the confidential settlement were not discussed, a few key points of the proposal have emerged:
- It appears the Marina Coast Water District will own the desal plant, and Cal Am will buy the water it produces.
- It will cause Peninsula water rates to spike. "Frankly it's desalting ocean water, so it's not gonna be cheap," Monterey County Water Resources Agency General Manager Curtis Weeks said. But, he stressed, water would become even more expensive if the RWP doesn't move forward and supply is severely curtailed.
- RWP governance is likely to be controversial. "The governments issue needs to be tackled head-on," Carmel Mayor Sue McCloud added. Without a joint powers agreement or something akin to it, she said, "we're dead in the water." Weeks assured her the settlement includes "multiple tiers of government…but there needs to be a public element."
- The settlement appears agreeable to Salinas Valley water interests. "REPOG [now the Water for Monterey County Coalition] was stealin' our water," said Supervisor Lou Calcagno, who represents the valley. The RWP settlement protects Salinas freshwater while creating a new desalinated supply for the Peninsula, he said.
The RWP centers on a desalination plant in Marina that officials hope will allow California American Water to stop illegal diversions from the Carmel River without severe cutbacks to Peninsula water supplies. (Cal Am is under a cease-and-desist order from the state water board to stop overpumping, but the order is on pause pending litigation.)
The purchase agreement is under wraps until it's put into Board of Supervisors packets Tuesday morning, March 30, followed by a 10am press conference in Monterey. But it's already controversial.
The Division of Ratepayer Advocates, an arm of the California Public Utilities Commission that represents Cal Am customers, was not happy about being left out of the breakfast meeting. "I want to ensure…that you are aware of the burden this Agreement would place on the residents of your City," DRA Director Dana Appling wrote in a March 25 letter to Peninsula mayors, "and that DRA intends to fight for a desalination project that is affordable, equitable and fair."
Sup. Calcagno's office arranged the breakfast by March 24 e-mail invitation. Attendees included Calcagno, Weeks, Sup. Dave Potter, Sand City Mayor David Pendergrass, Carmel Mayor McCloud, Seaside Mayor Ralph Rubio, Del Rey Oaks Mayor Jerry Edelen and DRO City Manager Daniel Dawson, CAW Spokeswoman Catherine Bowie, Monterey Councilwoman Libby Downey, and Monterey Regional Waste Management District General Manager William Merry.
Although the invitation subject was "re: the Monterey Bay Regional Water Project," organizers quickly clarified that they could not brief attendees on the details of the confidential settlement - especially with a lawyer, and an unexpected Weekly reporter, in the room - until its March 30 public release.
Rather, Weeks said, the goal was to get local leaders to sell the agreement to the community. "This is not a meeting about the purchase agreement. This is a meeting about the public outreach," he said.
McCloud noted the awkwardness of being asked to back the settlement at the March 30 press conference without seeing the specifics: "If that's the case, I think we should stay away." Weeks assured her officials would be briefed on the details before the media event.
"It's time to put our egos away," Potter said. "I'm convinced we can do this. We just have to work together and bring the community with us instead of dividing the community, which we seem to be very good at."
Rubio was likewise on board. "The stars are in line. I think this is the time we make this happen," he said, noting that both the cease-and-desist order and the Seaside Basin adjudication severely limit Peninsula growth. "Those combined could ruin any economic vitality in this area."
"Obviously the cost would be tremendous if we went into rationing," McCloud agreed. "This would be a big step forward."
Weeks said every party to the settlement except DRA is behind it, including the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District, Marina Coast Water District, Cal Am, MCWRA, Public Trust, Desalination Alliance and Surfrider. The DRA letter "misquoted what this meeting was about," he added. "We are concerned about that."
The settlement will be considered by Administrative Law Judge Angela Minkin on April 7, and a decision from her court is expected by the end of June, Weeks added. The PUC plans to make a decision by August, and then organizers will turn to finance planning.
Several mayors voiced frustrations with the confidentiality clause. "I don't see any point in this meeting if we can't discuss it," McCloud said.
Weeks agreed the gag order is socially awkward. "I'm in a box I don't know how to get out of," he said. "It feels like we're coming out with a cooked deal behind closed doors."