By SAFWAT MALEK and GEORGE RILEY
Too few public agencies and elected leaders are standing up for ratepayers. Too many give the benefit of doubt to Cal Am.
Although the concern is water, the corollary issue is money! Costs can be reduced from competition, from negotiation and competitive bidding, public financing, public ownership, and local public accountability for cost containment. But none of this is happening regarding California American Water’s currently proposed desal project.
The public must speak out on Cal Am’s proposed $99 million surcharge on ratepayers to cover initial high risk activities of tests, litigation and permits. Cal Am investors will carry few of these early risks. We ratepayers will bear most of them.
The California Public Utilities Commission will hold its only local public hearings on proposed water projects on Jan. 9, at 2 p.m. and again at 7 p.m. at Monterey City Hall. We encourage a large turnout at the hearings to let the CPUC experience firsthand how strongly the community feels about restraining water costs.
Cal Am’s proposed project faces several huge problems: no proven water rights, no proven slant well success, no permits, inadequate environmental reports, excessively high costs and threatened litigation from Salinas Valley growers.
Lower cost options exist, specifically through two approaches: competition from two venture capital proposals for desal at Moss Landing; and public ownership and financing. Cal Am has refused to present these options to the California Public Utilities Commission. The city of Pacific Grove started working with one competitor and the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District has initiated steps for a publicly owned back-up contingency in case Cal Am falters.
But no other public agency has made any specific plans for exploring the benefits of competition, nor for public ownership — not the CPUC, not the Mayors Water Authority, not other cities, not the county.
We are targeting our effort on the potential high costs for desalination and the issues surrounding this — its construction and operations, its sponsor, location, threatened litigation, issues of competition, and public ownership and financing. There are three competing proposals: Cal Am with slant wells near Marina, and two at Moss Landing —DeepWater Desal and The Peoples Moss Landing Desal Project (recently renamed Regional Desal), both with variations on ocean intake.
RATEPAYERS FIRST is composed of active and retired business professionals and water activists. The purpose is to expand and formalize the community voice for advocacy, for cost controls and for action. It has organized two recent town hall meetings for ratepayers and others to speak out. It has also initiated a petition drive to call attention to options for lowering desalination costs. We’ve even launched a new website to help ratepayers gain background — www.ratepayersfirst.org. Citizens for Public Water has joined this effort.
The primary goal is for the lowest cost desalination project. The means to maximum cost containment is public financing and public ownership. Too few are advocating for the lowest cost. Ratepayers continue to be bankrolling Cal Am without having any voice in decisions or oversight. We hope to change that. We need to give more guidance to our public officials. The public should have control over its water supply. Every person sharing this point of view should attend the CPUC hearing, and raise their voices in support.
Safwat Malek is an architect/builder and founder of RATEPAYERS FIRST. George Riley is a retired county official and founder of Citizens for Public Water.