The Pine Cone's sixth story of the week

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Cal Am and MPWMD file suit over cutback order

By KELLY NIX

Published: October 30, 2009

UPPING THEIR battle to stop a state agency from sharply curtailing the Monterey Peninsulas water supply, California American Water and the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District filed lawsuits this week against the State Water Resources Control Agency.

The lawsuits, filed Tuesday in Monterey County Superior Court, challenge a cease and desist order imposed Oct. 20 by the SWRCB compelling Cal Am to reduce pumping of the Carmel River by almost 20 percent over seven years.
The SWRCB order could force Cal Ams 40,000 water customers into rationing.

The order calls for cutbacks that are unfair to our customers, who already save more water than anyone else in the state, said Cal Am spokeswoman Catherine Bowie. We truly believe the energy and focus should be placed on getting a new water supply.

In the companys 27-page lawsuit, Cal Am called the SWRCB cease and desist order flawed and unreasonable and warned it could result in [Cal Am] providing 68 percent less water to the people of the Monterey Peninsula than [Cal Am] currently provides, and could jeopardize the health and safety of the people of the Monterey Peninsula.

The SWRCB issued the order to protect the steelhead trout, which inhabit the Carmel River.

The Sierra Club and the Carmel River Steelhead Association urged the board to go forward with the order.

The SWRCB has a duty to ensure sufficient water is available to meet the health and safety needs of the citizens of the Monterey Peninsula, said MPWMD attorney Dave Laredo in a news release. Unfortunately, the state board adopted an order that threatens our health and safety, and does not meet the needs of our local economy.

Meanwhile, the California Public Utilities Commission is expected to release its final environmental impact report Friday for Cal Ams proposed Coastal Water Project, which includes a desalination plant in Moss Landing. The EIR will also analyze a regional project that includes a desalination plant in North Marina.

Before the cease and desist order, Cal Am was allowed to divert 11,285 acre-feet per year from the Carmel River. The SWRCB order requires Cal Am to immediately reduce that amount to 10,429 acre-feet and reduce all diversions from the river to 3,376 acre-feet no later than Dec. 31, 2016. Twenty years ago, Cal Am was allowed to take almost 20,000 acre-feet per year from the river.

The order calls for Cal Am to spend tens of millions of dollars in upgrading its system, restricts potable water for irrigation and could require rationing.

Cal Am has said the directive could mean customers would be limited to about 50 gallons per person per day, 20 gallons less than the average amount customers use on the Peninsula.

Last year, the Peninsula used 2 percent less water than whats being called for in the order, but thats because hotel occupancy and tourism were down. If hotel occupancy rebounds and more people visit the Peninsula, water usage would increase.