Desal Déjà Vu
Pajaro Valley water district smells scandal potential with DeepWater Desal.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
The conflict-of-interest charges hobbling the Regional Desalination Project are spooking other local agencies in search of a new water supply. Now, Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency is holding a private desal company at arm’s length in hopes of avoiding similar scandals down the line.
Moss Landing-based DeepWater Desal proposes to draw 50 million gallons of water per day from the Monterey Submarine Canyon, pipe it up Highway 1 to a reverse-osmosis desal plant at Capurro Ranch, and produce 25 million gallons per day of potable water.
DeepWater Desal CEO Brent Constanz is courting California American Water to buy some of that water for the Monterey Peninsula. He’s also hoping to sell to the Pajaro Valley water district, which needs an alternative water supply to deal with its own groundwater basin’s overdraft.
Some of the Pajaro agency’s officials, however, worry DeepWater Desal’s advances are tainting the process.
“I see the potential to be drawn into a controversy similar to what has consumed the local media in Monterey County’s desal debacle,” PVWMA Ad Hoc Basin Management Plan Committee Chair Dave Cavanaugh warns fellow committee members in a Nov. 4 memo. “It would be unprofessional as well as irresponsible to ignore the potential repercussions of these latest efforts by DeepWater Desal.”
Cavanaugh, who did not return calls, flags three incidents as troubling.
PVWMA General Manager Mary Bannister took Constanz to task for telling Monterey County officials that her agency’s consultants independently pegged DeepWater Desal’s water at $2,380 per acre-foot. “This is simply not true and we request that you clarify immediately this misleading conclusion!” Bannister wrote in an Oct. 22 letter to Constanz.
While DeepWater Desal is one of many water supply alternatives under the Pajaro water agency’s consideration, Constanz’s numbers weren’t verified by the consultant, as he had claimed.
Constanz says he’s since met with PVWMA’s consultants to discuss the project specifics in more detail. “We believe that we are now within about 10 percent of each other on costs,” he writes by email.
But the cost claims are only one of Cavanaugh’s concerns. He also notes that Basin Management Plan committee member Frank Capurro, who owns a Moss Landing-based vegetable packing company, recused himself from a recent vote because of his connection with DeepWater Desal, which holds a 34-year lease on part of the Capurro Ranch.
Finally, Cavanaugh writes, Constanz approached committee member Stuart Kitayama “regarding investment opportunities.” This last issue may be particularly sensitive, given that the Regional Project is threatened by an alleged conflict of interest arising from former Monterey County Water Resources Agency board member Steve Collins’ acceptance of funds as a consultant.
On Nov. 15, the Monterey County district attorney pressed 39 charges against Collins. (See story, p. 16.)
Kitayama did not return calls, but Constanz confirms he has spoken with the flower grower and other farmers about investing. “I agree with Dave [Cavanaugh] though; people on committees and boards shouldn’t have financial interests,” he adds. “I don’t know if the Ad Hoc Basin Committee really qualifies, but I think it’s better to be safe than give any impression of conflict of interest.”
DeepWater Desal is moving forward in its regulatory permit applications, Constanz adds, in hopes of delivering water by late 2014.