On Wednesday, January 9th the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) wants to hear your thoughts on the Cal-Am Water Supply Project - Cal-Am’s proposal to stop its illegal pumping of the Carmel River. When considering projects, the CPUC must take into consideration “community values” which is why your input is so important (link to CPUC website talking about community values).
CPUC Public Participation Hearings
Wednesday January 9, 2013
Monterey City Hall
580 Pacific Street, Monterey
Two hearings: 2pm and 7pm
LandWatch will be there!
What are LandWatch’s biggest concerns?
Cal-Am’s groundwater rights are uncertain making the project vulnerable.
Cal-Am is proposing to pump water out of the over-drafted, seawater intruded, Salinas Valley groundwater basin. It is unclear if Cal-Am holds the water rights to do so. Many organizations besides LandWatch have raised this concern such as the Salinas Valley Water Coalition and the Planning and Conservation League. This issue requires extensive factual investigation to determine if the rights exist.
Interestingly, groundwater modeling to help determine rights are expected in the draft environmental impact report (DEIR) for the project, due out in July. However, these findings in the DEIR will be released after the testimony, evidentiary hearings, and briefing for the Certificate of Public Necessity and Convenience (CPCN), i.e. the permit for the project. All of the hearings, testimony, etc. are scheduled to occur before June, before the important DEIR is released! Furthermore, test well data are not scheduled until 2013-2014, after the CPUC’s vote scheduled in early 2013.
Given all this, what is LandWatch proposing? We believe it is critical that the decision-making process evaluate and remain open to a non-Salinas Valley Groundwater Basin option in case the facts do not support groundwater rights for Cal-Am. We’ll urge the CPUC to consider the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District’s standby project evaluation, or to consider an alternative project and evaluate it at the level of detail required of the CPUC and California Environmental Quality Act so it’s ready to go if the Cal-Am project is rejected.
LandWatch supports a portfolio approach to the water supply solution. So the desal component can be as small as possible. We want all available water supplies used first before turning to desal because desalinating water is energy intensive and expensive. Furthermore, a portfolio of projects means the community is less dependent on a single source that could fail.
The size of the desalination plant could be approximately 5.5 million gallons a day or close to 9 million gallons per day. The ultimate size is affected by the Groundwater Replenishment Project (GWR). LandWatch supports GWR which could provide a quarter or a third of the Peninsula’s needs. GWR must be considered as the first option because:
- it is less expensive per gallon of water than desalinated water;
- the process uses less energy for a smaller carbon footprint;
- there is a successful example of a GWR project in Orange County;
- it reuses water;
- the Coastal Commission, which is one of the decision making bodies, prefers exhaustion of low hanging fruit before turning to desal.
Finally, the city of Pacific Grove recently submitted an application to the CPUC for three small water supply projects. The projects seek to use recycled water for irrigation of the city’s municipal golf course, city parks and landscaping, and the cemetery. Projects like these can reduce the amount of desalinated water needed and should be considered when the size of the desal plant is determined.
LandWatch has supported public ownership since 2009 through advocating the Hybrid Regional Project. We think local public ownership ensures better governance and decision-making processes.
LandWatch believes public ownership of the desalination facility would ensure transparency because public agencies have to follow:
- the Brown Act which requires open meetings and agendas;
- the Public Records Act requiring agencies make records available to the public;
- conflict of interest and campaign contribution laws which places constraints on office holders.
Furthermore, public agencies allow the public an opportunity to participate in the decision-making process, creating greater accountability of its decisions while incorporating public values. Finally, public agencies receive the lowest possible financing rates for capital improvements thus saving the ratepayers money in both the short and long-terms.
What potential decisions related to the water supply project do we think are important for public agencies to make? LandWatch believes the ultimate size of the desal plant should be determined by the public. The public should decide the size of the desal plant in light of GWR readiness and availability of other sources like Pacific Grove’s three project proposals. Finally, presumably a public agency would respond better during an emergency situation like if the desal plant fails potentially harming the public’s health and safety.
Please attend on Wednesday the 9th and let your opinions be known!
Amy L. White
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