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Editorial: Who's really to blame for big water bills

Published: August 31, 2012

HERE’S SOMETHING you need to know about the news media: They think they know everything.

So when they discover something that’s news to them, they think it’s news to everybody.

And that’s what happened over the last few weeks when the Monterey County Herald started making a big deal out of supersized water bills that have been showing up in a few local mailboxes. Evidently the editors over there at Ryan Ranch just figured out that the local water shortage is costing plenty of people plenty of money. Meanwhile, as is their wont, the Herald blamed Cal Am for causing water bills to spike, whereas it should be obvious to anyone with the slightest objectivity that our water shortage, along with all of its terrible impacts to the local economy and individuals’ pocketbooks, is the fault of the state and federal governments.

Consider, first of all, who’s being hurt:

- Even if you just use a normal amount of water, your water bills have increased sharply and will soon be going up a lot more.

- If you own a business you would like to expand, but the expansion would require more water, you can’t.

- Anyone who owns a vacant lot that has no water allocation is not permitted to use the land for anything, and is forced to accept a great reduction in its value, while still paying full property taxes.

- If a drought strikes, hotel and restaurant owners may be forced to close rooms or reduce hours to cut water use.

- Owners of properties that would be appropriate for more intense uses — such as Pacific Grove’s Holman Building — are denied access to the water main in the street, and if they can somehow come up with a way to obtain water have to pay a very high price for it.

- Anyone who has a leak on his property which he doesn’t notice right away is going to be hit with a huge bill for the wasted water.

- All of the above add up to lost jobs, lower wages and generally reduced levels of economic activity on the Monterey Peninsula, which affect every working person’s wages, benefits, savings and retirement.

And why are all these things happening?

- The federal government declared the steelhead trout population in the Carmel River “threatened” (even though the fish is very common around the world), thereby severely restricting access to the river’s water for human use.

- The state government suddenly decided in 1995 that Cal Am didn’t have the legal right to pump most of the water it had been routinely taking from the river for decades and ordered the company to stop pumping it. And the state made this order without offering the slightest help in obtaining a replacement supply.

- State environmental rules make it ridiculously expensive to get permits for a new water supply — and may very well make it impossible.

- To encourage conservation of the water we’re not supposed to be using, the state ordered Cal Am to charge extremely high prices for water above “normal” use.

- Meanwhile, the state agency that ordered the water cutback is demanding compliance with it.

We could go on and on. The point is that our water shortage, with all its dreadful costs for individuals and the local economy, has been caused by government and can only be solved by government. Cal Am is at the whim of Sacramento and Washington as to the amount of water it can produce, where it gets it, and what it must charge for it.

So if your water bill goes through the roof, or you just don’t like government hurting you and your community when it’s supposed to be helping, please direct your ire to Sam Farr and Bill Monning.