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Editorial: The businesses got it right

Published: December 28, 2012

AS THE Monterey Peninsula moves at glacial speed towards a new water project, most of the attention remains focussed on who will build it and where. But the most critical issue is actually how big it should be.

There are a couple of reasons why size is the preeminent issue.

First of all, whether the project is desal only or a combination of desal, wastewater reclamation and underground storage, the water it produces is going to be very expensive. Fortunately, desal plants and other water projects provide economies of scale — that is, the more water they produce, the cheaper the per-gallon cost. So the bigger the plant, the less its impact will be on your monthly bills.

Even more important is the fact that only a large desal plant will actually benefit the public. A small one will cost tons of money without delivering anything tangible in return. And why should the public be asked to pay hundreds of millions of dollars for something that does them no good? They shouldn’t.

The Cal Am plan, you see, was produced under pressure from environmentalists and does nothing more than replace Carmel River water the state took away in 1995. And while the Cal Am project would take care of the fish and the frogs in the river, it would do nothing for people (except give them large bills to pay).

That is no good. As pointed out by a coalition of local business groups in a letter to the California Public Utilities Commission last month, what this community requires is a desal plant large enough not only to take care of the river, but provide for the basic needs of people in Carmel, Carmel Valley, Pebble Beach, Pacific Grove, Monterey and Seaside.

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful to actually have enough water?” the business groups ask. Yes, it would.

First of all, as the businesses point out, vacant legal lots of record must be served. Scattered throughout every part of the Monterey Peninsula are vacant lots with no water, which means they can’t be used for anything. This is grossly unfair to the owners of these lots. Furthermore, thousands of homeowners would like to remodel and add a bathroom or two. Because of the water shortage, they can’t.

Similarly, many commercial properties are vacant or underused because of the water shortage. Downtown Carmel needs more residents, which can only happen if apartments are added above some stores. In Pacific Grove, the American Tin Cannery and Holman Building should be transformed into mixed retail and residential projects. Monterey wants to revitalize the Alvarado Street corridor, and bring the Conference Center into the 21st century. In every community there are businesses that would like to expand to meet customer demand.

But none of this can happen because there is no water. And Cal Am’s current project won’t let any of these things happen, either.

The decision about how big our water project should be will be made by the California Public Utilities Commission. The business coalition — consisting of local hotels, restaurants, commercial property owners, contractors, realtors and chambers of commerce — says the desal plant needs to be big enough to take care of people as well as fish.

We heartily agree.