Published in the Monterey Herald – July 31, 2017
Assessing blame for water price
By Lawrence Samuels
Special to the Herald
A report from the Food and Water Watch has Cal Am water rates as the most expensive in the nation. Maybe. But who is really responsible for the high rates?
The story began with a 1995 proposed dam in upper Carmel Valley. The dam would have been the lowest-cost alternative since the fresh water is already free, naturally. Moreover, the dam would let the river flow during the dry summer months to accommodate the steelhead salmon, red-legged frog and other important species. Easy peezy. But no, the radical environmentalists said that a desalt plant would be better, although far more expensive. The dam was voted down. The cost of water seemed to be unimportant.
When the dam was no longer politically viable, the radical environmentalists changed their tune. No, the desalt plant would not do. As for the temporary government agency—the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District (MPWMD), explicitly organized to resolve our water problems—they seemed impotent to do much of anything. After spending around $100 to $150 million dollars to find a new water source, there was little to show. In fact, the taxpayers’ money spent by MPWMD would have provided the lion’s share of the funds to build a dam. Ironic.
Other alternatives to provide water got the attention of Clint Eastwood, who offered to donate a large parcel of land for a reservoir near Carmel River in early 1990, a project called the Cañada Reservoir Project, which most people wholeheartedly supported. That is, almost everyone except the MPWMD that had elected a number of radical environmentalists who opposed the lower-costing water gift. The project died. Apparently, cost was again no object.
It took the local city mayors’ Monterey Regional Water Authority to get a desalt plant off the ground after almost 25 years of do-nothing. But here again, the radical environmentalists sued, obstructed, and delayed in every possible way to stop the desalt plant. This pattern only increased water rates. And even if Cal Am had been a public entity, the water rates would be still be high, since the State’s court order forced the water provider to get customers to use less water, thereby making the production of water more expensive per gallon.
So, what is the game plan of the radical environmentalists? We know they don’t like water because it might inspire some growth, despite the harsh restrictions against building anything in Monterey County. Maybe they simply want to show their political muscles by actually stealing the water company before they eminent-domain whole neighborhoods into wildlands, returning Monterey to its pre-Columbian days. But that would bring up another problem; water would be fairly cheap then, and the make-water-expensive crowd could never allow that.
Lawrence Samuels is author of the 2013 book, “In Defense of Chaos: The Chaology of Politics, Economics and Human Action.” He lives in Carmel Valley.