October 30, 2012
It's become a heated political issue here in Monterey County, but there wasn't even a peep of protest when the California Public Utilities Commission killed the county law requiring public ownership and operation of local desalination plants.
Item 17 on the Oct. 25 CPUC agenda, "Declaring Preemption of County Ordinance and the Exercise of Paramount Jurisdiction," passed unanimously as part of the consent agenda. The vote sanctioned the proposed decision of a CPUC administrative law judge who'd ruled that the commission, which regulates the state's private utility companies, trumps the 1989 county law.
This is kind of a big deal. Last spring, after the collapse of a regional desal proposal that would have had public ownership, California American Water Co. unveiled a new proposal. The Water Supply Project simply ignored the county law and proposed to make Cal Am the private owner and operator the regional desal plant.
The county filed suit in San Francisco Superior Court in hopes of clarifying the issue. The Oct. 25 CPUC ruling assumes the commission not only trumps county law, but the Superior Court's power as well.
County Counsel Charles McKee says this issue is not to bed yet. “It’s not just done," he says. "We have to evaluate whether it’s appropriate to seek a re-hearing [with the CPUC] or a challenge in the Supreme Court."
There may be another process, he adds, that would accomplish the goals of the county law without slowing down Cal Am's Water Supply Project. “Reliability is a big thing in terms of having a public entity be the owner. You don’t have a potential owner of a resource like that with the risk of going out of business and not being able to continue," he says. "Having this decision come out now doesn’t help us."
For all the background you never wanted on this impossibly wonky—but critically important for anyone who uses water on the Monterey Peninsula—issue, visit www.mcweekly.com/desal.