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County to spend $80,000 to join Monterey Peninsula mayors' water group


Published: September 14, 2012

THE MONTEREY County Board of Supervisors decided this week the county should be more involved in the Monterey Peninsula’s quest for a new water supply solution.

The supervisors Tuesday voted unanimously to join the Monterey Peninsula Regional Water Authority, a group composed of the Peninsula’s six mayors that was formed early this year to identify and develop a viable water project for the Peninsula.

The supervisors also voted to contribute $83,300 from the county’s 2013 general fund to the water group, which has a budget this year of $245,000. On Aug. 1, the mayors sent a letter to the county asking it join.

“In looking at the merits in becoming a member of the regional [water authority],” Monterey County’s intergovernmental affairs director Nick Chiulos told the supervisors, “I think what [County Counsel Charles] McKee and I have concluded, is that it really gives the county a voice in the process.”

Because 34 percent of water company California American Water’s consumption occurs in the unincorporated area of the Monterey Peninsula, the county’s involvement in the group would allow for greater representation to residents in those areas and weight to the water authority’s decisions.

Furthermore, the California Public Utilities administrative law judge reviewing Cal Am’s proposed desalination plant — which the company unveiled earlier this year — directed Cal Am to consider public ownership of its project. The county has long had an ordinance requiring desalination plants be publicly owned.

The regional water authority is evaluating a desalination project by Cal Am, a deepwater desalination project by businessman Brent Constantz and another desal proposal in Moss Landing by developer Nader Agha.

Supervisor Lou Calcagno said the county’s role in the group should be limited to a certain number of years, though he didn’t specify precisely how many. He also said the county’s membership costs should be closely monitored, a point that supervisor Jane Parker also made. Parker said if costs exceed $100,000, the supervisors should be required to approve the extra expenses.
“The county is not in a position to throw a bunch of money around,” she said.

Doubt about county’s record

Several people told the supervisors they didn’t think the county’s membership was a good idea and because it would slow down the process begun by the mayors and also divert attention from the Salinas Valley’s own water problems.

Land use activist Julie Engell also pointed to the county’s role in the defunct regional desalination project, a $400 million plan that fell apart early this year amid water rights issues and conflict of interest allegations.

“The county would have a whole lot more credibility about its concerns for the region if the county had behaved more responsibly on the first go around on the regional project, which has been botched on every level,” according to Engell.

However, Bill Hood said the county’s role in the water authority group could help make a case to the California Public Utilities Commission as to which water project is best for the Peninsula.
Meanwhile, at Wednesday’s regularly scheduled water authority meeting, the six mayors approved the formation of a three-member “governance committee,” composed of a representative from that group, one from the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District and another from the county’s water resources agency.

The committee will consult with Cal Am in the areas of permitting, construction, operations, maintenance and other aspects of its proposed desal project, which also includes water storage facilities and a project that turns wastewater into drinking water.

Though the mayors have not endorsed a specific project — and are still deciding which one will be best for the Peninsula — the PUC recognizes only Cal Am’s as a viable one.

“This discussion is all under the possibility that the PUC chooses Cal Am’s proposal, but that’s not to say that the end of the day we may not throw our weight behind one of the other proposals,” said Carmel Mayor Jason Burnett.

The water authority also voted to back the water district’s proposal to be the public agency behind Cal Am’s project, which could allow for lower interest rates and an overall lower cost to ratepayers.

“We are just trying to reduce the total cost to constituents,” Burnett said.