October 3, 2014   
Monterey Herald, Monterey, California

Guest Commentary

Slant-well test a waste of time, money

By Ron Weitzman

The Herald's Sept. 14 editorial critical of Marina's rejection of Cal Am's test-well request attributed the request's opposition to people rather than reasons: "Many of the critics speaking at the meeting are longtime foes of Cal Am."

The opposition consisted of different groups having different and cogent reasons to oppose the request. The editorial's argument could have been more persuasive if it had challenged those reasons rather than just being dismissive of the opposing groups as consisting of the usual suspects.

As president of WaterPlus, I cannot speak for the other groups, but I can indicate why WaterPlus opposes the test-well project. Before I do that, I am going to describe what we as a public benefit, nonprofit, four-year-old group advocating for ratepayers are generally for and against in our local water scene.

We are for Cal Am as a local water purveyor, but we are against it as a water supplier. Reason: $1 billion in greater cost to ratepayers if Cal Am rather than a public agency supplies the water. We support the public purchase of Cal Am as a means to assure public ownership of our water supply.

We support Cal Am's efforts to make money for its shareholders, but not at our ratepayers expense, particularly for failed projects like the San Clemente Dam and the Regional Desalination Project and, now, for the slant-well project that available and persuasive evidence indicates is doomed to fail.

We oppose the slant-well-test project because we are the ones who will pay its cost of upward of $4 million when (a) ratepayers are not a charitable organization in the business of funding research projects; (b) the test proposed is not a true test because it lacks a go-no-go criterion like the existence or non-existence of an aquitard separating aquifers under the sea; and (c) by showing no such aquitard exists at the proposed Cemex site, the borehole study has already demonstrated that slant wells will not pass muster.

The state Agency Act prohibits the exportation of groundwater from the Salinas Valley, whose aquifers extend miles outward under the sea. The sole purpose of the proposed test is to show the state water board due diligence in following its guidelines show no harm in the hope that the board will extend its cease-and-desist-order deadline. Cal Am has persuaded the hospitality industry and Monterey Peninsula mayors that our local economy will literally dry up if we fail in that effort.

That on its face is a baseless fear. In the first place, the issue is the illegality of exporting groundwater from the Salinas Valley, not whether that exportation may or may not cause harm. In the second place and equally apt, the decision is not the state water board's. It is Cal Am's: Either severely cut the water taken from the Carmel River or pay a drastic fine for failing to do so.

Facing that choice, Cal Am has requested the Public Utilities Commission to allow it to track the fine it might choose to pay so that it can later recover it from ratepayers. Public Water Now is circulating a petition to the PUC to turn down that request. WaterPlus urges all ratepayers to sign that petition.

The slant-well test is a waste of time and money, and delaying the CDO deadline will only lengthen the time Cal Am is ravaging the Carmel River and endangering the life it supports. Cal Am should move without delay to Plan B, whatever that might be.

Meanwhile, the mayors may better serve their constituents by exploring and promoting the other water-supply options that are out there. After all, this is America, where competition is king.

Ron Weitzman is president of WaterPlus.

# # #

Waterplus Monterey Home       Return to Previous Page