California green lights controversial desalinization plant

By Todd Woody
December 3, 2010


The California Public Utilities Commission has approved a controversial desalinization plant for the Monterey Peninsula on the state’s central coast that will solve the region’s water woes but at a high price.

The California American Water Company, known as Cal-Am, and local agencies will form a partnership to build and operate the $297.5 million desalinization project to replace supplies drawn from the Carmel River, the historical source of the region’s water.

To protect the Carmel River, the California Water Resources Control Board had ordered Cal-Am to stop diverting water by Dec. 31, 2016

“The Monterey Peninsula has been struggling to find solutions to the water supply deficit for decades,” the public utilities commission noted in its decision issued Thursday. “We emphasize the history to provide a context for our decision to reach outside the usual procedure and to approve a costly desalination project as a reasonable solution.”

Commissioners acknowledged that the project, which will desalinate 3.4 billion gallons of water a year, will result in a 63 percent rate hike for local residents.

“It is critical to move forward with a solution to ensure that Cal-Am complies with the California Water Resources Control Board’s requirement to address the water supply issue or face losing most of its water supply from the Carmel River,” Timothy Alan Simon, a commissioner, said in a statement.

However, the California Division of Ratepayer Advocates, a division of the utilities commission that represents consumers, argued that the water produced by the Cal-Am project will cost nearly four times as much as the current market rate for desalinated water.

The Division of Ratepayer Advocates “has long supported a sensible desalination project for Monterey customers of the California American Water Company but finds that the project plan adopted by the CPUC today does not meet basic requirements for ratepayer protection, and puts residents at real risk of incredibly higher water bill,” Joe Como, the group’s acting director, said in a statement.

(Photo courtesy of Mike Pitcher.)

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