November 14, 2012
California American Water wants its regulators to know it has options if the sh*t goes down in the proposed Water Supply Project. But, Cal Am adds, it probably won't.
A judge for the California Public Utilities Commission had asked Cal Am to present contingency plans for potential roadblocks in the project, which centers on a regional desalination plant north of Marina. In a Nov. 1 legal brief, Cal Am outlines its backup plans in the event of six possible glitches:
If the Salinas Valley Aquifer becomes unavailable as a source of brackish water, Cal Am's backup plans include: Installing a shallower slant well or vertical "Ranney" well in the Sand Dunes Aquifer on the Cemex property in north Marina; a slant well at Portrero Road in Moss Landing; or an open-ocean intake at one of two locations. The judge's concern about this is understandable, given the Ag Land Trust lawsuit challenging water rights in the Water Supply Project's predecessor, the now-defunct Regional Desalination Project.
If the facilities siting falls through, Cal Am has five intake and/or outfall alternatives, including the sites of the two competing desal proposals: DeepWater Desal and the People's Project, both in Moss Landing.
If the 9,000-acre-foot desal plant fails or is interrupted, Cal Am will fall back on its 6,864 acre-feet per year in other water supply sources: 3,376 acre-feet per year from the Carmel River; 1,920 acre-feet per year from aquifer storage and recovery; 1,474 acre-feet per year from the Seaside Basin; and 94 acre-feet per year from the Sand City desal plant.
If the outfall pipe for brine disposal falls through, Cal Am could tweak the piping on the existing proposal, install a new outfall pipe on the Cemex property or build a brine pipeline to Moss Landing.
If water demand drops (possibly as a result of higher water prices) so the desal plant's 9,000 acre-foot capacity is too much…well, Cal Am doesn't directly answer that question. Instead, the company argues that a "downward spiral" of demand is unlikley. Even if water demand drops by about one-third, the brief states, the extra water could be used to serve new developments and "pay back" the Seaside Basin.
If the desal project is delayed beyond the December 2016 deadline, at which point the state will cut off 70 percent of the current Carmel River pumping, Cal Am's options, it states, "are extremely limited." The company's Monterey Service District will be subject to emergency water rationing. The current average residential water use is about 55 gallons per person per day. Cal Am suggests the minimum "for health and safety reasons" is 35 gallons per person per day—hinting at a legal challenge should the state water board attempt to enforce deeper reductions.
The filing ends with Cal Am's version of, "But don't worry about it": "California American Water stresses that these are simply contingency plans and believes that it has selected the appropriate project…The Commission should not allow the intervening parties to use these contingency plans as a way to delay approval."
In a separate Oct. 26 compliance filing, Cal Am addresses four proposals—from the Monterey Peninsula Regional Water Authority, the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District, the city of Pacific Grove, and the competing "People's Project"—for a direct public agency role in the Water Supply Project.
Here, too, Cal Am seems to be humoring the PUC Administrative Law Judge Gary Weatherford's orders while also dismissing the reasoning behind it. A county law requires public ownership of any local desalination plants, but last month the PUC ruled that it could pre-empt that law. The question is also pending in the Superior Court in San Francisco.
"California American Water appreciates the cooperative nature of the Regional Water Authority's proposal, but it cannot support public ownership for the desalination component of the [Water Supply Project," the filing states.
A public partnership wouldn't make the project happen faster or cheaper, Cal Am argues. The company suggests it would be open to a governing role by the Regional Water Authority, but only if the authority drops its interest in competing desal proposals.
Last week, the authority's consultant released an assessment comparing the three desal proposals. The expectation is that the authority board will use the information to back one of them. The report gives Cal Am's project an edge in terms of timing.