By Marge Ann Jameson
At the Jan. 31 meeting of the Monterey Peninsula Regional Water Authority, the area’s mayors voted unanimously to follow the suggestions of Carmel Mayor Jason Burnett and back the Cal-Am proposal before the Public Utilities Commission in hearings about solutions to the area’s water problems. But there were conditions, and now Cal-Am says it won’t be meeting at least one of those conditions.
The mayors wanted Cal-Am to pursue parallel permits with the various regulatory agencies involved so that if Cal-Am’s plan for sourcing water for the proposed desalination plant falls through, less time would be lost. Cal-Am’s representative, director of engineering Rich Svindland, told the Technical Advisory Committee of the MPRWA on Mon., Feb. 4 that the company would not pursue permits for parallel projects because various state agencies would resist attempts to gain approval for contingency plans.
There were other conditions as well, which the mayors termed “non-negotiable” but which, in fact, carry no force of law.
Saying that they believe Cal-Am’s plan is the closest to approval and the most likely to go online first, the mayors still balked at the water purveyor’s plan to drill slant wells into aquifers in the Salinas Valley. The plan to drill from the two aquifers, a 180-foot one and a more shallow one, is in conflict with Salinas Valley agricultural interests and will likely wind up in legal battles with the growers. Mayors wanted technical and legal concerns over the aquifer pumping plan to be addressed and requested a contingency plan for source water.
Responding to public concerns over the rumored sky-high cost of the project, the mayors hinged their support on Cal-Am’s to accept a $100 million public contribution which, because of public involvement, would lower the interest rate and rate of return for the project. They also asked that a planned $99 million surcharge on ratepayers’ bills be limited to lower-risk portions of the desal project. They asked that Cal-Am seek lower-cost power for the desal facility. And they wanted to require Cal-Am to prove in writing that it could obtain low-cost state funding or else submit to allowing the MPRWA or the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District to pursue that funding.
And the mayors said their support would come at the price of a public oversight plan which would include not only the cities those mayors represent, but the county and the MPWMD as well. Governance was a separate issue addressed after the vote on the recommendation issue.