Thursday, December 3, 2009
W ith roughly half of the Peninsula’s unused water credits, the city of Seaside could be especially screwed by a state ban on new water hookups.
Seaside has about 45 of 97 untapped acre-feet in the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District. The city is counting on using its water credits for about a dozen planned development projects.
“We’ve been very water-savvy,” Mayor Ralph Rubio says. “And now, because we’ve been very good water stewards, we’re going to be penalized as a city.”
In October, the state Water Resources Control Board adopted a cease-and-desist order (CDO) imposing a moratorium on most new water service connections within California American Water’s local service area. The board holds that Cal Am has been illegally overpumping the Carmel River, with negative impacts on threatened steelhead and the river habitat.
The local water district is challenging the CDO, arguing that the state water board failed to consider the health and safety impacts on the community. “The state board did not give a fair hearing,” MPWMD attorney David Laredo says.
On Nov. 3, Monterey County Superior Court Judge Kay Kingsley granted the district’s request for a stay on the moratorium. The Attorney General’s office asked the court to lift the stay while the lawsuit proceeds, but Kingsley ruled that the CDO remains in effect—for now. A hearing on whether the stay should be dissolved is set for Jan. 27.
In an August comment to the state water board, Seaside City Manager Ray Corpuz argued that freezing Seaside’s water allocation “would significantly harm the communities that have planned upon its availablility to support essential infill development, including projects of great social value, such as senior and affordable housing units.”
The city developed slower than its neighbors after the early ’90s closure of Fort Ord. So while other cities used up their water, Seaside banked its remaining credits for future projects. Corpuz asks the state water board to exempt water allocations, such as Seaside’s, that were created in 1993 by the drilling of the Peralta Well into the Seaside Aquifer.
Corpuz’s tone sharpens in a September letter, in which he calls the revised CDO “one-sided and short-sighted…Plainly stated, the state board has chosen fish over people.”
City planners, meanwhile, are proceeding—a bit nervously—with business as usual. Deputy City Manager Diana Ingersoll says as long as the MPWMD keeps issuing water permits, Seaside will keep issuing building permits. But if the moratorium is enforced, Cal Am might not be able to install water meters. “We’re informing our customers that they’re taking a risk,” she says.
“Unless we have economic development to bring in tax revenue to continue providing services to residents, then we have a problem,” she adds. “The city of Seaside will be penalized for the fact that we are the only city on the Peninsula with unallocated water. We just feel that we’re getting the raw deal.”
But state water board spokesman Bill Rukeyser says the legal issue at hand is Cal Am’s water entitlement, not Seaside’s water allocation. “For years, Cal Am has been taking more water from the Carmel River than it has a right to,” he says. “We deal with water rights. We don’t deal with the question of how a company divvies up what it delivers to its customers.”
MPWMD General Manager Darby Fuerst says the district will continue issuing water permits to qualified applicants, even if the moratorium blocks Cal Am from making the hookups. “The cease-and-desist order isn’t against the district; it’s against Cal Am,” he says.
Cal Am, which is also challenging the CDO, is caught between conflicting orders from the state water board and the California Public Utilities Commission, which rejected the company’s request to halt water hookups—in compliance with the moratorium—while the stay is in effect.
“We are in a confusing situation now,” company spokeswoman Catherine Bowie says. “We have one state agency telling us that we’re under an order not to make any new connections, and another state agency telling us, ‘You can’t do that.’”
The city of Seaside is likewise seeking clarification. Rubio, the Seaside Basin Watermaster Chairman, has asked the state water board to confirm that the CDO—which focuses on overpumping from the Carmel River—doesn’t affect Cal Am’s right to produce water from the Seaside Basin.
If the court stay is lifted, the CDO would trigger river pumping reductions and water rationing in addition to the ban on new hookups. That potential outcome adds pressure to Cal Am’s Coastal Water Project, which aims to use desalination and other technology to deliver fresh flow to the water-limited Peninsula.
“Whether the moratorium sticks or not,” Rubio says, “we have to be focused, as we have been all along, in developing that new water supply.”