February 7, 2015  
Monterey Herald, Monterey, California

Guest Commentary

 

County should enforce desal ordinance

By Ron Weitzman

The end of next year is not so far away. Maybe we should all start looking seriously at what our water supply will be at that time because that is when the state Water Resources Control Board has ordered Cal Am to stop its decades-long ravishment of the Carmel River and draw most of the water for its Monterey Peninsula customers from elsewhere. Twenty years ago the state board made that order loud and clear, and six years ago it established the deadline for Cal Am at the end of next year.

Cal Am will fail to meet that deadline. Its proposed water-supply project cannot possibly be completed by at least 2 1/2 years afterward, if then, and if at all. So what can we expect to happen at the end of next year? And what should our local mayors do to make sure whatever happens is good for us all?

The reason for the deadline is to stop the devastation of the Carmel River. All Monterey Peninsula elected officials run on a platform that includes that noble goal for fear they would surely lose if they didn't. We are a community where environmentalists are politically transcendent. So why is our local mayors' authority seeking an extension of the state's deadline that will take us precisely in the opposite direction by adding many additional years to the river's environmental degradation? The answer to that question is a good place to begin.

The answer paradoxically is also fear. Cal Am has instilled horror of local economic Armageddon in our entire county political establishment by threatening to cut off most of our Monterey Peninsula water supply at the end of next year. In an effort to avert this dreaded consequence, our local mayors have joined our county supervisors in voting to support Cal Am's water supply project while working to extend the state's deadline to accommodate it.

Fear causes people to act irrationally, and that is particularly so in this instance. Cal Am will not cut back our water supply to endanger our economy. It would be run out of town if it tried. It fully expects to pay the fine and is confident that it will persuade the Public Utilities Commission to authorize its recovery from ratepayers. The mayors' appropriate course of action is to try to dissuade the PUC from making that authorization. Simply put, Cal Am screwed up, and Cal Am should pay up.

The mayors should go even further.

Cal Am's water supply proposal is a bald-faced attempt to steal from the Marina Coast Water District the desalination plant we need to make up for the expected shortfall in Carmel River water. Our county supervisors are complicit in that attempt. They have joined Cal Am in an application to the PUC to allow the company to own and operate the plant despite a county ordinance that permits only a public agency like Marina Coast to do so.

Why the ordinance? Among other reasons, private ownership could cost ratepayers over $1 billion in profit, taxes and interest more than public ownership in the course of the project's loan-payoff period. All that additional money would just be picked out of ratepayer pockets for no additional water. Why the county supervisors are leading us down the path to this particular Armageddon is the subject of ongoing state and federal litigation.

Our local mayors should stay as far away as possible from this hot potato. They should do everything they can to get the county to enforce its desal ordinance uniformly. That is the legal, moral and responsible thing to do. Thank goodness, at least one local mayor is now heading in that direction.

Ron Weitzman is president of Water Ratepayers Association of the Monterey Peninsula (formerly WaterPlus)

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