Extra Helping of Squid 2.4.13
Squid speaks on the eventual enormity of Peninsula water prices.
Monday, February 4, 2013
PRIX FLUXE…Squid likes to fantasize about being on Real Housewives of Monterey County, in which Squid doesn’t even look at the prices when ordering the finest wines from the poshest Carmel restaurants.
But Squid isn’t a real housewife. Squid is a working cephalopod who drinks more water than wine—and checks the prices carefully. Unfortunately, the way local officials are handling the future Monterey Peninsula water supply, Squid has absolutely no idea what kind of bill Squid’s going to be smacked with.
The Monterey Peninsula Regional Water Authority decided last week to back California American Water’s proposed seawater desalination plant over two competitors. But even if the project breaks ground (and given the failures of desal proposals past, that prospect’s as slippery as a flopping steelhead), Squid can’t find a straight answer about how it’s going to show up on Squid’s water bill.
Squid knows this much: If today’s tap water costs about $1,820 per acre-foot—Cal Am’s number—desal is going to be more spendy. That’s about as specific as it gets.
The consultant’s final report the mayors used in making their decision pinned Cal Am’s desal water at $3,300 per acre-foot for a 5.4-million-gallon-per-day desal plant, or $4,310 per acre-foot for a 9-mgd plant. (The sizing mostly depends on whether the Monterey Regional Water Pollution Control Agency’s highly politicized water recycling happens—and that’s a different tangled story.)
Those numbers are up from an earlier estimate of $2,555 for the bigger plant, thanks to a projected interest rate that doubled from 4 to 8 percent between the consultant’s draft and final reports. The mayors say the price will go down again if Cal Am agrees to conditions like a $100 million public contribution and a low-cost state loan.
But the folks in charge aren’t even in agreement about those blurry consultant estimates. Using its own California Public Utilities Commission-inspired formula, Cal Am puts the cost of its desal water at more than $5,000 per acre-foot. Further muddying the waters: Cal Am is now asking for an even bigger plant, thanks to add-ons like the Seaside Basin water payback and the Pebble Beach expansion. Which means, you got it, mo’ money.
Cal Am spokeswoman Catherine Bowie says it’s not quite an apples-to-apples comparison because the water company is figuring in stuff like a $90 million contingency and additional infrastructure. It’s impossible to know the real number, she adds, since the desal project hasn’t been put out to bid.
The same sort of weirdness goes for aquifer storage and recovery (ASR), the scheme that has Cal Am and the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District squirreling winter Carmel River flow into the Seaside Basin for summer use. The district puts the current ASR cost at about $1,700 per acre-foot. Cal Am’s saying it’s actually $2,200 if they’re lucky enough to get every drop possible out of it—and since they don’t, more like $3,300.
Um…may Squid make a suggestion? Water may be liquid, but money is an object. Let’s all get on the same page about how much the Monterey Peninsula’s future supply is going to cost, and stick to the budget.
[Editor's note: This post was edited Feb. 5, 2013 to reflect a corrected Cal Am estimate of the current cost of water. That number is $1,820, not $2,500 as originally reported.]