Thursday, July 15, 2004
Water meetings make me thirsty. Or maybe it’s the hard candies on the table that I’m popping in my mouth. Whatever the reason, I’m thankful for the pitcher of ice water sitting in front of me.
I’m sipping away as California-American Water Co. VP Steve Leonard opens the public hearing. (It’s a very last-minute public hearing. The only known announcement appeared on the front page of the Monterey County Herald, about 12 hours earlier.)
Cal-Am could face millions of dollars in fines if it pumps too much water from the Carmel River, he says. This is not the big news. Of course, ratepayers would likely feel Cal-Am’s pain—in their pocketbooks.
There’s a state mandate in effect that limits the water company to pump 11,285 acre-feet per year from the river and its Peralta well in Seaside. Because of the recent hot, dry months, since mid-May Cal-Am has already used about 95-acre feet of water too much. At this rate, Cal-Am will exceed the state limit by the end of September.
Which is why we’re here, in a conference room at the Embassy Suites hotel in Seaside. Leonard warns the crowd that “we’ll not respond to questions today. We’ll take input and move forward.”
The moving forward part refers to a state Public Utilities Commission meeting the next day, July 8, at which the PUC will consider Cal-Am’s request for an emergency water-rate increase targeting customers who use large amounts of water. (On July 8, the PUC approves Cal-Am’s emergency rate increase.)
The rate hike—targeting golf courses, public agencies with large, irrigated, outdoor areas, and residential customers who use excessive amounts of water—is intended to curb water use and keep Cal-Am within the state-ordered limit.
The second part of moving forward has enraged 99 percent of the people in the Embassy Suites conference room: Cal-Am will consider a ban on new and expanded water connections as early as this week. This is why the 50 or so attendees trekked to Seaside. City Councilmembers, Pebble Beach Company reps, Cannery Row Company spokespeople, hospitality industry types and business owners are here to tell Cal-Am that a moratorium is unfair and will decimate the Peninsula’s economy.
Larry Foy, a former Cal-Am manager and current Monterey Peninsula Water Management District board member, warns that the action could, in effect, backfire. He refers to the fact that the PUC has banned new water hook-ups twice before, once from 1973 and 1975, and again between 1991 and 1993, until the Paralta well in Seaside came online to augment the Peninsula’s water supply from the Carmel River.
“Every time we have set a possible moratorium,” Foy says “we’ve had a tremendous increase in connections. You will see the same race to the pump if we go forward.”
“Of course we are opposed to any form of a moratorium,” says Cannery Row Co.’s Frank Donangelo. “The hospitality industry is now recovering from 9-11. This would have a great impact.”
Cal-Am’s only ally comes in the form of an unlikely supporter: David Dilworth, Pebble Beach Co. nemesis and avid no-growth environmentalist. He is the only speaker who supports Cal-Am’s proposed moratorium.
“The problem is there are too many straws in the ground,” he says. “The cities and the county have been acting a lot like drug addicts. Except that this is a water addiction.”
He’s booed as he walks away from the mike.
The hearing is over, and Leonard says he’ll take the transcript of this meeting to the Cal-Am Board of Directors.
The ice water in front of me has run dry. But from what I can see, most of the pitchers—there are two per table, and about 15 tables in the room—remain largely untouched.