A Cooperative Endeavor

The Division of Ratepayer Advocates (DRA) of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), with the assistance of the University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC), were engaged in a project with the goal of developing a comprehensive water resource plan for the Monterey Peninsula. To accomplish this goal, DRA facilitated a series of meetings, which we called "dialogues," with all interested parties during 2007 and 2008. The objective of the dialogues was to collaborate among the various interested parties on a solution, or perhaps several complementary solutions, to supply the water needs of the Monterey Peninsula in a cost-effective and sustainable way.

In the effort to assure the most economically beneficial service for California American Water Company (Cal Am) customers in one of the company’s regulatory cases, DRA has embarked on a unique, new approach to their regulatory mandate, broadening the analysis beyond Cal Am’s reach to the Monterey region as a whole. DRA anticipates that the dialogue process will result in a regional water supply and management implementation strategy that balances and meets the needs of all stakeholders. The implementation strategy could include an array of new water supply projects including desalination of brackish or sea water, recycled water, water conservation, and ground and surface water conjunctive management programs. Moreover, any array of regional projects and programs must satisfy the regulatory requirements faced by Cal Am and increase the financial and economic benefits to its ratepayers over Cal Am’s current supply plan called the Coastal Water Project.

The last DRA-sponsored regional dialogue meeting took place July 2, 2008, and the last meeting facilitated by UCSC was held March 4, 2009. However, the meetings continue on a monthly basis. Meeting participants who adopted the name, Water for Monterey County Coalition, are primarily from the Monterey County region. Water agencies, municipalities, other governmental agencies responsible for resource management or quality, interested citizens, and interest-group stakeholders are participating. The group strives to identify a diverse set of new water supply projects, water management programs, and multiple-agency agreements that have the greatest potential for providing a solution to the region’s water supply challenges. More information is available at www.waterformontereycounty.org.

Background: The Reason for the Regional Dialogues

The Legal Perspective: What Happened?

Cal Am serves a large portion of the water demands on the Monterey Peninsula including the Cities of Seaside, Sand City, Monterey, Del Rey Oaks, Pacific Grove, and Carmel-by-the-Sea, Monterey Airport District, and areas of unincorporated Monterey County. Cal Am’s water supply sources are local and entirely dependent on local rainfall. The Monterey Peninsula region is vulnerable to drought and consequently experiences unreliable water supplies.

Exacerbating the climatological uncertainties, Cal Am’s current source of water from the Carmel River Aquifer was found to be untenable by the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB). In 1995, the SWRCB adopted Order 95-10 which found that Cal Am was diverting approximately 10,730 acre-feet per year (AF/Y) more water from the Carmel River Aquifer than the amount to which it is legally entitled (3,376 AF/Y). In 1995, 10,730 AF/Y represented 69 percent of Cal Am’s water supply for the entire Monterey District. The order required Cal Am to find a new source of water to replace diversions over and above 3,376 AF/Y. In addition, Cal Am was ordered by the SWRCB to reduce pumping from the Carmel River by 20% from historic levels.

In 1998, the California Legislature approved Assembly Bill (AB) 1182 requiring the CPUC to develop a long-term water supply contingency plan to meet the water needs of Monterey Peninsula residents. The plan developed by the CPUC included seawater desalination and an aquifer storage and recovery component. The CPUC published this plan in July 2002 ("Plan B"). In 2003, Cal Am adopted the plan concept and formally applied to the CPUC to undertake the project, which came to be known as the Coastal Water Project (CWP).

The Broader Perspective: What are the Regional Needs; What's Available?

Although Cal Am is a significant water provider in the region, the water needs in the Monterey region are beyond Cal Am’s jurisdiction and ability to satisfy. It is clear that water resources in the region must be enhanced to assure adequate supply in future years. The cost of such enhancements will likely be significant, and it behooves us to focus on alternatives that will spread those costs over as many water users as possible in order to keep cost-per-customer at a minimum. Hence, the regional approach.
[More on water demand]
[More on supply alternatives]

The Process: A Collaboration

The Dialogue Process: Public Involvement

DRA has inaugurated a series of project strategy implementation dialogues amongst the agencies and publics who are interested in Monterey regional water supply reliability. Throughout 2007, 2008 and early 2009, the meetings were held monthly, on the last Wednesday of each month. Currently, the meetings are held on the first Wednesday of each month at the University of California’s MBEST Center in Marina, CA.

Who's Involved?

Regional Dialogue participants abound. Among them are water and energy utilities, consumer groups, legislators and a host of federal, state, regional, county and city agencies and boards.