July 19, 2012
Monterey Herald
Monterey, California

More to the water story

By RON WEITZMAN
Guest commentary

This is an attempt to fill in important blanks in recent coverage of local water happenings.

First, there is the assertion by local mayors that Pacific Grove should recuse itself from the Monterey Peninsula Regional Water Authority when it evaluates competing desalination projects because Pacific Grove is aligning itself with one of the projects - the People's Moss Landing project.

What is omitted here is that all of the other cities involved in the authority have aligned themselves with one of the other projects because one of the legs in the "three-legged stool" they support is Cal Am's desalination project. If Pacific Grove should recuse itself for possible bias, then so should all of the others.

Second, there was the news that eight parties to the new Cal Am water-supply proposal have filed notice with the California Public Utilities Commission that they will seek more than $1.3 million in compensation for efforts to help vet the proposal.

Left unsaid is where Cal Am gets its money to fight for its shareholders at the expense of ratepayers: the same source, the ratepayers. The purpose of the claimed compensation is to ensure a level playing field.

Third, there was the assertion by Roger Dolan in his July 18 commentary that the Monterey Peninsula Taxpayers Association is "continuing to undermine the last, best hope we have for a solution to our water supply crisis."

His concern is that the taxpayers association is conducting a referendum on the "user fee" that the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District board has voted to impose on local property owners. The taxpayers association believes, along with many others, that the fee is in reality a tax and should be put to voters for approval. The purpose of the referendum is to do just that. What could be wrong with that?

What Dolan omitted is that the water management district has been the bastion of the Carmel Valley Association's efforts to limit growth in the valley. Dolan is a member of the association's water committee. The "user fee" is necessary if the district is to continue its support of the association's efforts to control growth.

Not so? Just look at what the water management district has done and proposes to do. It has done little that has succeeded in augmenting our local water supply. It continues to monitor and restrict our use of water. And it proposes to use the "fee "to inject treated wastewater into the Seaside aquifer as "the last, best hope we have for a solution to our water supply crisis."

Why is this "our" last, best hope? Answer: As one of the legs of the three-legged stool, it could place a limit on use of desalinated water that might open the floodgates to uncontrolled development in Carmel Valley.

Cal Am created the three-legged stool to win over controlled-growth activists in Carmel Valley at the expense of all water ratepayers on the Peninsula. Principally because of the difference in interest rates, a desalination plant built by Cal Am could cost Peninsula ratepayers a half-billion dollars more than one built by the city of Pacific Grove--optimally, but not necessarily, in a consortium with other local cities. It is unfortunate that our community has been held hostage by attempts to control development in Carmel Valley. The referendum of the taxpayers association will be truly successful if it puts an end to that.

Ron Weitzman is a founder of WaterPlus, one of the groups seeking compensation for its role in analyzing Cal Am's latest desalination proposal.

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