Thursday, April 15, 2010
The latest round of Regional Water Project fisticuffs has begun, as opponents duke out a set of complicated deals that could govern Monterey Peninsula’s primary water supply for the next 94 years.
Virtually every player supports the project in theory, and most agree the short window for public participation, after months of closed-door meetings, is unfortunate. But the camps are split over the two proposed agreements that detail who pays for, owns and governs the project.
Star players on Team Aye: Marina Coast Water District, the county Water Resources Agency, California American Water, the county Board of Supervisors, Monterey Regional Water Pollution Control Agency, Surfrider Foundation and Public Trust Alliance.
On Team Nay: the PUC’s Division of Ratepayer Advocates, Ag Land Trust, LandWatch, Citizens for Public Water, Desal Response Group and, after a last-minute defect, the Peninsula water district.
Some opponents are upset Cal Am ratepayers would shoulder most of the project costs. “There will be a general atmosphere of hysteria as we go through this,” says Supervisor Dave Potter, who sits on the Peninsula water board and backs the agreements. “My job and everybody else’s job is to keep the rates as low as possible.”
Others are focused on protecting the Salinas Basin. On April 5, the Ag Land Trust sued Marina Coast, arguing the agreements violate the California Environmental Quality Act and bank on water rights the district doesn’t own.
That same day, the Peninsula water district convened a special board meeting and, with a changed vote by Director Regina Doyle, rescinded its March 25 support of the agreements. The next morning, the County Supervisors backed the deals, with only Jane Parker opposing. (See “Local Spin,” p. 15.)
Also on April 7, Sand City’s comparatively tiny $14 million, 300-acre-foot-per-year brackish water treatment facility (unaffiliated with the 10,500-acre-foot-per-year Regional Water Project) went online, making national headlines as the state’s first full-scale desal plant.
That PR boost was offset by a new DRA analysis. While proponents price the project at up to $390 million and about $4,000 per acre-foot, DRA puts the cost near $450 million and $7,900 per acre-foot – an “exceptionally expensive” facility that could almost triple Cal Am rates.
“They’re certainly not the numbers we anticipate having,” counters Marina Coast General Manager Jim Heitzman. “We think it’s a fair and equitable deal.”
Marina Coast would pay $149 per acre-foot for the estimated 15 percent fresh water that’s legally reserved for Salinas Valley. Heitzman says the low-ball price is appropriate. “The beneficiary is supposed to pay for the water,” he says. “We don’t need the water.”
But Peninsula water district director Kristi Markey, who voted against the agreements, suggests Castroville and Prunedale could buy it at the Peninsula’s higher rate. “North County has dire water needs and a severely overdrafted basin,” she says. “We should look for North County buyers that are willing to pay for water from the facility, rather than giving it away to Marina Coast.”
PUC hearings are set for May 10-14 in San Francisco. “There is so little time to clarify any of the questions,” says George Riley of Citizens for Public Water. “I hope we do not end up with litigation as the only way to move forward.”