Tag Archive | "California"

Get Desal Permits Quickly by Coordinating Early & Designing a Good Project, State Panelists Say


By John Earl
Surf City Voice

How to get more ocean desalination plants built in California despite pesky environmental regulations was the topic of a workshop on Oct. 30 at the 1st Annual Desalination Conference held by CalDesal at the Hyatt hotel in Irvine.

CalDesal is a non-profit lobbying organization started by Mesa Consolidated Water District in Costa Mesa after years of collaboration with various other southern California public water agencies, including the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and the Municipal Water District of Orange County.

CalDesal promotes desalination on behalf of its 80 or so member organizations, including public water agencies and private water corporations, as well as the private consultants who piggy back on that tightly knit partnership – the foundation of water management.

The raison d’être for CalDesal is the desal industry’s powerful foes, the environmentalists, who, it is said (but never documented), greatly outspend and out lobby the water industry. Due to that imbalance, environmentalists have gone too far with regulations, obstructing what could be an eternal flow of water from the limitless ocean that is needed to feed our (or the water industry’s) insatiable appetite for growth.

In an “Action Alert” issued last spring, CalDesal warned that “There can be in excess of 30 local, state, and federal permits and related approvals and comments involved in reviewing and issuing permits for seawater desalination projects. That often can lead to an inefficient permitting pathway and redundant requirements” putting at risk “critical water supplies for communities.”

CalDesal intended the alert to rally support for “streamlining” legislation, Assembly bill 2595, which proponents hope would set up a so-called one-stop shop to replace the five or six stages of permitting that exists now.

Streamlining advocates insist that their intent is to increase efficiency, not to “fast track” the projects in order to by-pass environmental regulations. But the bill’s opponents say that by diluting the permitting process the bill would undermine fundamental environmental protections.

“There’s no need to streamline ocean desalination regulations,” says Conner Everts, director of the Southern California Watershed. “Projects that comply with existing laws have moved forward. Those that haven’t have been challenged.”

Water agencies want to be exempt from environmental regulations, Everts says. “But this [ocean desalination] is a new technology with huge impacts that is new to California and the United States and [it] deserves to be properly reviewed.”

The bill died in committee, but the fight to streamline lives on through CalDesal, whose members probably ended up hearing a different truth than expected at the generally upbeat but tightly controlled two-day event.

Titled “Desalination Permitting – the intersection of Science & Policy,” the workshop brought together representatives from the state agencies that handle permitting for desalination projects, including the California Natural Resources Agency, California State Water Board, California Coastal Commission, California State Lands Commission and California Department of Fish and Game, to explain permitting basics to CalDesal’s members.

The overriding message was clear: follow the proper procedures from the start; if your project is worthy, it will be approved in a matter of months. But if you don’t follow the proper procedures, expect delays.

Building a desalination plant is “an extremely daunting process,” explained Catherine Kuhlman of the Natural Resources Agency, which monitors the state’s natural, cultural and historical resources, including marine protection areas. “We also know that desal is a necessary component of our water supply in the future.”

Kuhlman said that there are three key permits to get, from the Lands Commission, Coastal Commission and the State Water Board. Those agencies work together to avoid permitting conflicts, she said, and they are committed to ensuring that desalination is part of the state’s “water portfolio.”

Coordinating early with the permitting agencies is “hugely important,” she said, but “pitting the agencies against each other isn’t going to be an effective strategy. It will result in a delay.”

Tom Luster of the Coastal Commission explained the role of state agencies in upholding the Public Trust Doctrine, which is embedded in centuries of Western law and the California Constitution.

The Public Trust Doctrine protects the public’s right to water resources for the common good rather than strictly for private profit and underlies what each state permitting agency does in its own way, he explained, so desalination projects must conform to its principles.

Tom Luster

Tom Luster speaks to CalDesal members about faster permitting. Photo: Surf City Voice

To help streamline the permitting process for ocean desalination projects, Luster suggested submitting applications to the State Lands Commission early on because that agency serves as the lead for determining compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act, which sets the protocol used by state and local agencies for analyzing and disclosing environmental impacts of local projects and it thoroughly analyzes Public Trust Doctrine issues as part of that process.

Adhering to the California Coastal Act, which provides the structure by which the Coastal Commission protects coastal resources, is also paramount, Luster said. “The better the proposed project incorporates all the Costal Act policies and the other state requirements, the more likely it’s going to have a smoother ride through the permit process.”

The main concern, Luster said, is to determine the least environmentally damaging way of creating the water supply after considering all the alternatives, including different approaches to desalination or sources other than desalination.

“Part of the consideration should be, are there water efficiency or conversation measures that can be put into place? Are there additional recycling opportunities that you would put into place before going to the desal? If those options have provided the [water] supply with less environmental damage those would be evaluated as part of our assessment of the project,” Luster said.

Luster listed specific issues that the Coastal Commission will look at during its review of an ocean desalination project, including the pros and cons of co-locating with a power plant for ocean intake, as Poseidon Resources Inc. plans to do with the AES power plant in southeast Huntington Beach in order to suck in 100 million gallons or more of seawater each day and produce 50 million gallons of potable water.

That intake process, referred to as once through cooling (OTC) because seawater is passed through pipes to cool the power plant, decreases capital costs but kills virtually all marine life (larvae) that come through the intake process.

The State Water Board has virtually eliminated the use of OTC for power plants by 2020 but will decide how to apply the new marine protection standards to ocean desalination plants in next two years.

Although Poseidon claims that the amount of ocean marine life that would be killed by the Huntington Beach plant is miniscule, the actual harm done goes beyond any single ocean desalination plant, Luster pointed out.

There are 12 ocean desalination plants envisioned or planned along the coast between Tijuana and Santa Barbara that would draw in marine life from overlapping areas, including some designated to protect marine life, which would have a significant cumulative effect.

“Co-location should not just be considered a default choice of facility,” Luster said, a factor that he also said would be considered in the Commission’s project analysis.

Other desalination permitting issues mentioned by Luster:

  • How much water is needed and can it come from multiple sources?
  • Will the water go to one defined location where water conservation plays a key role or to an area without an effective conservation program?
  • Does the project fit with the Local Coastal Plan and anticipate population growth?
  • Is the site located in a protected or sensitive habitat area?
  • Does the project use subsurface intake (thus eliminating the problems caused by once-through-cooling)?
  • Is it close to the shoreline or away from the shoreline?
  • Will it be a publicly or privately owned facility?
  • Did developers coordinate early and extensively with public agencies and other stakeholders?

Three months was the shortest time for full permitting of an ocean desalination project, Luster said. That was a relatively small facility in Sand City that produces 330 acre feet of water per year (Poseidon’s proposed Huntington Beach plant would produce 56,000af). The average length of time so far has been 7 months, according to Luster.

“If you have a well designed and planned facility the permitting process shouldn’t be any problem at all,” Luster said.

Poseidon’s Huntington Beach plant still hasn’t finished its permitting process after 10 years. Environmental Impact Report issues remain for the Coastal Commission, the final permitting stop, to resolve, but for the past five years the company has repeatedly failed to comply with the commission’s requests for information about the project. Also, the project’s opponents have filed an appeal with the commission over a 2010 Local Coastal Plan permit given by the city.

Those issues could be resolved by the commission sometime in 2013. But given unresolved financing and contractual issues, when or if the plant will ever be built is still an open question.

Please Give Generously Now



Other Amount:



Your URL or E-mail :



Posted in Energy, Environment, Headlines, Poseidon, Water, Water BoardingComments (0)

Commentary: Why Desalination is Dead in California


By Conner Everts
Desal Response Group

Drinking water from the Sea?

Sounds like a great idea. JFK once said that it would be a greater achievement than putting a man on the moon, and most polls have shown a 70 percent acceptance rate of the idea.

So what is the problem?

The corollary to JFK’s statement would be “when economically and environmentally feasible” and therein is the challenge.  However, the first question that should be asked is do we need ocean water desalination (often called desal) in California and would it hurt or harm the environment compared to its alternatives?

In 2006 there were 29 proposals for ocean desal projects along the California coast, with many attached to old coastal power plants, now there are only nine.  While industry proponents blame California’s protective environmental regulations and a few environmentalists’ opposition, there were three main issues that stalled the proposals.

First, despite the State Desal Task Force convened by legislation, there is no consensus on a regulatory order or state-wide direction. So each proposal lumbered through the multi-agency process.

That’s as it should be because if there is a large scale desal plant built in California it will be the first on the Pacific coast and largest in the Western Hemisphere.  The first proponent out of the gate was Poseidon, a private corporation from Connecticut that failed with its first desal project – the largest in the nation at 25 million gallons a day – in  Tampa Bay, Florida, and then proposed two more plants, each with twice that capacity, one in Huntington Beach in Orange County and the other in Carlsbad in north San Diego county.

While working hard to gather political support for its southern California desal projects, Poseidon failed to respond to repeated information requests by the Coastal Commission or to follow its permitting guidelines. Meanwhile, local opposition grew and water agencies weighed into issues of the marine environment, which they little understood, and were forced to navigate California’s complex and arcane water supply laws as well.

Second, conceived in a time of drought, the most recent crop of desal proposals depended on a fear of limited water supply while demand was high for new development. This was especially true where desal plants were proposed on the coast, thus allowing entry points for previously undeveloped areas with limited water supply.

With the collapse of the global economy, developments now sit idle and the need for desal as a redundant water supply for more growth is being questioned.  Promoted as an offset to water pumped over the Tehachapis and therefore reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the opposite is true. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) states in its subsidy contract that the water produced by desal would not curtail deliveries of any imported water source.  Rather blood would be let on the floors of the MWD boardroom before anyone at MWD would give up any sacrosanct water rights.

Furthermore, the promises that these proposed desal plants would offset water taken from the SF Bay Delta turned out to be false. Given the long history of getting water back to fish and the environment, there is no regulatory process to make that happen. Just look at the 20 years of litigation that has taken place over Mono Lake.

Third: first things first. There are untapped and cost-effective local water resources that must be developed and that have environmental benefits, unlike desal, such as maximizing serious water conservation and water reclamation, capturing and treating urban and storm-water runoff, expanding now legal greywater and rainwater cistern systems, and fixing leaky infrastructure or pipes.

Combine that with a systems approach with watershed management and we begin to get to the point that Australia, Spain, and Israel did before they invested in desal – which meant reducing per capita water demand to 30-50 gallons per day. Compare that to 174 gallons for California as a whole and 121 gallons for Los Angeles.

Many areas across the state, including Los Angeles and Long Beach, have had serious reductions in water demand and eliminated the need for desal—it’s not in Los Angeles’ 20 year supply plan and Long Beach is reconsidering after careful research.

California spent $50 million of Prop. 50 water bond monies on researching this issue and while not all the grant results have been revealed the emerging consensus is that proponents’ promise of a technological breakthrough that makes desal feasible or necessary hasn’t been realized. This is a case of its not the technology, stupid, it is the lack economic considerations and available capital.

And then it rain, and rained, and continues to rain.  Reservoirs filled and spilled.  Snow pack reached record levels in the Rockies, from where a portion of our imported supply originates.  If we had only realized the potential to capture rainwater and redistribute stormwater back into our depleted underground aquifers, this would have been a great winter to replenish the bank of locally stored water.

A quick historical perspective shows that ocean water desal plans come and go in California.  In the 60s and 70s it was twin nuclear power plant islands to be built offshore and provide all the water we needed and a small plant that was sent from the navel base in Point Loma to Guantanamo in Cuba.

In the 80s and 90s it was the Santa Barbara plant that was built in the middle of the six-year drought and was idled before it ever was connected by El  Niño spring. While it is still being paid for it is more cost effective not to run it.

At Catalina Island in the late 80s a small plant was built as a back up to allow a developer to build condos.  It sat idle for many years until Southern California Edison took it over, and in the only place where they sell water it takes 70 percent of the island’s electricity to produce 20 percent of its water.

Internationally, where there is often no other choice, limits have been reached but with a price. Australia is now deeply indebted for billions for plants that sit idle and have been flooded.  Even the Middle East is having problems with desal with huge demands for energy and subsidized water in Saudi Arabia and discharge levels that increase salinity and therefore energy demands in enclosed areas.

Ocean desal is promoted heavily by a cabal of membrane manufacturers, including GE, power plants operators hoping to keep their old fish-killing machines operating, water agencies looking for large capital projects built with some else’s money, engineering consultants and even Las Vegas.

But the bloom is off the issue. It looks good on the outside but once you delve into the inside there are problems, like fast food might sound good at the moment of hunger but the results of eating it are negative.  Investing in the current crop of desal plants is like buying an old Hummer with today’s gas prices.

Concerned citizens who organized statewide and locally to inform the public and fight the desalination surge can now declare victory and focus back on appropriate multi-benefit local water resources.  It does not mean we won’t continue to monitor these projects but to focus on only the fight would validate an issue that, once again, has passed away. After ten years, this time, we should celebrate a successful fight that brought this to the light of day and the fact that California is not ready for ocean desal and it is not ready for us.

There are many other issues around desal including energy intensity, huge marine and fishery impacts and the alternatives, drinking water quality, sea-level rise with industrializing the coast and the true costs of water. Go to the website www.desalresponsegroup.org for more than you would want to know and links to the many references made in this article.

Please Give Generously Now



Other Amount:



Your URL or E-mail :



Posted in Energy, Environment, HeadlinesComments (1)

Conservationists Fight Back Against Seawater Desalination


By David Rosenfeld
Courtesy of DC Bureau
Thursday, 03 March 2011

California is in the process of building a series of massive ocean desalination plants on a scale not seen before in the United States. While most are at various stages, slowly slogging through bureaucratic red tape, conservationists are pushing back against powerful interests betting California’s looming water crisis occurs sooner rather than later.

Opponents argue the technology is too expensive and damaging to the environment while the state could do a lot more to conserve water at the tap and in the fields where most of California’s expensive imported water ends up. Skeptics also see in desalination a potential boondoggle where the public bears the risk and Wall Street investors reap the benefits.

“We should be doing a lot more in terms of water saving before we go into desalination,” said California Coastal Commission chairwoman Sara Wan.

“Most likely, given the population we have, we’re going to eventually need to do desalination for water,” Wan said. “There are ways to do it that are less damaging and ways that cause significant impact.”

There are now about 20 full-scale proposals for desalination plants – with several smaller facilities already up and running – from San Francisco to San Diego that would turn the salty waters of the Pacific into drinkable tap water. Some plan to draw brackish water through ground wells, while most want to draw millions of gallons of seawater each day through the same in-take pipes that power plants must phase out in 15 years.

Like the power plants, desalination plants have the potential to entrap sea lions, millions of fish and other marine life. The industry says it is reducing harm with newer technologies such as wedge-wire screens, but much depends on location. Wan voted against a large-scale plant in Carlsbad because it would destroy sea life in a nearby estuary, but she supported a plant in Monterey that plans to draw water through near-shore wells. Neither facility is built yet, though both could break ground this year, marking the first large-scale desalination plants in the state.

There are problems too with desalination’s byproduct, the heavy concentrates of salt and the remains of other chemicals that could be dumped into the ocean.

Desalination also has a massive carbon footprint. For the most common type of ocean desalination method called reverse osmosis, which pushes water through membranes, some 40 percent of the operating cost is electricity to power the plant.

The $700 million proposed plant in Carlsbad by investor-owned Poseidon Resources expects to satisfy around 8 percent of San Diego County’s water supply while at the same time consuming as much electricity as 45,000 homes. Greenhouse gas emissions would total about 200 million pounds a year, according to the project’s environmental impact assessment.

Advocates say the technology is becoming more efficient by re-capturing energy and using renewable resources as much as possible. But it is a lot to overcome.

Drawing water
Most of what the state knows about ocean water in-take pipes comes from the impact of 19 coastal power plants. In 2009, the State Water Resources Control Board ordered those plants to phase-out the use of surface water in-take pipes for cooling their red-hot equipment, the sole reason they are located on the coast in the first place. The state’s governing body on water determined those in-take pipes kill 9 million fish, 57 sea lions and other marine life each year.

Lou Correa and Scott Maloni

Sen. Lou Correa joins Poseidon CEO Scott Maloni to support desalination plant in Huntington Beach. Photo Arturo Tolenttino for SCV.

But those orders do not apply to desalination plants, which expect to use many of those same pipes, often at equal capacity, long after power plants are barred from doing so.

“The effects are the same if you’re drawing in seawater for desalination or power plants,” said Tom Luster, an analyst with the California Coastal Commission. “You’re killing essentially 100 percent of marine life, larva and fish eggs.”

Poseidon’s Carlsbad plant and another the company plans to build in Huntington Beach call for using the same surface water in-take pipes used by the local power plants there now.

“That just exacerbates the problem in our mind,” said Joe Geever, a spokesman for Surfrider Foundation, which along with other conservation groups has filed appeals and lawsuits against both facilities. “If you’re going to protect marine life, you have to protect it from all of these industrial in-takes.”

The Carlsbad plant would draw about 300 million gallons of seawater per day from a nearby lagoon and produce roughly 50 million gallons of drinkable tap water.

An environmental impact assessment performed by biologists determined the screens would destroy enough marine life equal to 66 acres of ocean productivity. To compensate for the impacts, Poseidon agreed to restore 66 acres of wetlands in the San Diego bay area and spend more than $60 million on carbon offsets.
 
Ironically, the state order against ocean-cooled power plants will diminish their capacity, industry experts predict, just as desalination is coming on the scene, which requires huge amounts of electricity.

The water sector already accounts for 20 percent of the state’s energy use, and desalination will only make it greater.

Despite the drawbacks, desalination has gained widespread support among California lawmakers and elected water officials who have pledged hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies.

Most of the projects would not be possible without tax-exempt bonds and direct subsidies beginning with California’s $3.4 billion Proposition 50 passed in 2002. It provided $50 million to support 48 desalination projects including research and development, pilot projects and feasibility studies from 2004 to 2006. The years following brought increased support as private companies stepped in to build some of the largest public infrastructure projects in the state’s history.

“Desalination is not the solution. But for some agencies it’s part of the solution,” said Paul Shoenberger, general manager of Mesa Consolidated Water in Costa Mesa.  Shoenberger also heads CalDesal, a newly formed pro-desal lobbying group made up of public water agencies and private water companies.

“With water being so critical these days, we shouldn’t be taking any options off the table, and I don’t think we should be pursing only one option,” he said.

According to backers, California faces a looming water crisis that could make the sky-high price of desalinated water today seem like a bargain in as little as 10 years. In fact, dozens of companies, many in the San Diego area, have millions of dollars riding on it.

“They are not just hoping,” said Glenn Pruim, utilities director for Carlsbad Regional Water District, about Poseidon. “They have it locked up in agreements.”

Two-thirds of Southern California tap water and most of the water irrigating California’s rich farmland arrives courtesy of an aqueduct system hundreds of miles long from the Colorado River to the east and the San Joaquin basin in the north. But those reserves are running low, and they threaten endangered species, which could potentially dramatically increase consumer water prices.

California’s population, meanwhile, could reach 60 million by 2050 from around 37 million in 2009, according to the state’s Department of Finance.

“You can ask anyone in the water industry,” said Noelle Collins, spokeswoman for the West Basin Municipal Water District, which supplies water to parts of Los Angeles County. “Everyone has said you can’t conserve your way out of this crisis.”

But analysts at the Pacific Institute, based in Oakland, say California farms and households could do a lot more to conserve water.

In parts of Southern California, up to 70 percent of all household water is used outdoors, mostly to water lawns, and an estimated 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater drains into the ocean each year.

In California, per capita water use still hovered around 176 gallons per day in 2005, according to the latest estimates by the State Water Resources Control Board.

By contrast, in Australia where ocean desalination plants are up and running in nearly every major city along the coast, consumers reduced their water use to about 40 gallons per day before turning to the costly alternative.

A 2003 report by the Pacific Institute found California could save up to 30 percent of its residential water measured in 2000 mostly by imposing national plumbing code standards established in 1992. Those standards call for low-flow toilets and showerheads and more efficient clothes washers – far less expensive steps than multi-million dollar desalination plants. Other options such as rain barrels, cisterns and native landscapes also help reduce demand. “These are by no means cutting edge technologies,” said Heather Cooley, a Pacific Institute policy analyst.

Another study in 2009 found that California farmers, who receive 70 percent of the state’s overall water supply, could save up to 16 percent – around 5 million acre-feet per year – by adjusting irrigation techniques.

“That’s water you wouldn’t have to withdraw in the first place,” said Cooley, adding that the changes would be greatest in dry months and would also result in healthier plants and less fertilizers and pesticides. “It does suggest that it’s a very effective mechanism for dealing with drought and, in the long run, helping us address climate change.”

In 2009, California passed a state water plan to conserve 20 percent by 2020. The law provides greater incentives for farmers to conserve water, but experts say it won’t be enough.

“There are certainly a lot of barriers to conservation and efficiency. One of them is the low price of water,” Cooley said.

Unlike consumer prices, agricultural water prices are less affected by shortages. Contracts are often set for years at a time and the costs are even more subsidized than residential systems. The new law will require water agencies to measure how much water farmers are using, but it will not enforce any conservation standards.

Sporadic reports in recent years of California farmers letting their fields lay fallow often has more to do with water being cut off due to drought rather than the price of water becoming too high.

Ocean desalination is one way to relieve water pressure on California agriculture, said Shoenberger, who heads CalDesal.

“With an increase in population and increase in water needs in California, desalination is a great potential alternative along with the others for getting local water that’s clean, safe and reliable,” Shoenberger said. “A lot of the inland and agriculture areas would love to see urban California reducing their reliance on the Delta and the inland streams.”

In many cases, conservation has relieved the pressure to build expensive desalination plants where experts realize they are not needed, but supporters say those efforts are running out of steam.

In greater Los Angeles County, water consumption has dropped 15 percent in the past year, according to the West Basin Municipal Water District. The district imports two-thirds of its water today, which it wants to cut in half by 2020. It  also manages a water recycling facility in El Segundo that turns wastewater into 30 million gallons of fresh water daily.

Much of that conservation and reuse came through programs sponsored by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which manages the flow of imported water.

On January 26, Metropolitan reduced its conservation budget to just $10 million – about 1 percent of its total budget – for the coming fiscal year beginning in July. Last year, the southern California water agency spent about $20 million and the year before roughly $54 million in conservation rebates.

The agency, meanwhile, has pledged nearly bottomless funding to water districts with working desalination plants. A report by the Public Education Center’s DCBureau.org published last year analyzed how these incentive funds amounted to taxpayer subsidies.

Metropolitan has already committed up to $350 million over 25 years to Carlsbad – given the plant produces as planned – and a virtual blank check for additional plants to come. The incentive amounts to $250 per acre-foot of fresh water produced.

“We spent hundreds of millions of dollars on conservation and recycling projects,” said Bob Muir, Metropolitan spokesman. “We conserve and recycle and cleanup groundwater that produces more than a million acre-feet of water per year. That’s more than the water used by cities of Los Angeles, San Diego and the San Francisco Bay area.”

West Basin water officials, like many others along the coast, are looking to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a desalination plant to supplement around 10 percent of the region’s water needs. The district has already spent more than $21 million on two pilot projects over the past 10 years.

At a demonstration plant in Redondo Beach opened in October, visitors can see an underwater video of fish swimming past the in-take pipes and educational displays about making desalination more feasible. Yet, according to West Basin, plans for a full-scale plant are still undecided. Collins said the district wants a plant capable of producing 20 million gallons per day, but a location has not been chosen.

“We want to double our recycling and conservation and add a little bit of ocean desal,” said Collins, adding the district would own the plant while contracting major functions.  

Desalination is not new in California. Any water reuse facility or groundwater remediation likely uses the same technology. And even large-scale plants were considered periodically in decades past.

Several efforts failed to materialize. Others were built but rarely needed. In 1998, Santa Barbara built a desalination plant, which now sits idle because it is too expensive. Recent desalination proposals, too, have been temporary shelved as conservation measures are paying off.

Proposed plants in Santa Cruz and San Luis Obispo are being questioned. In Long Beach, where local officials have been considering a desalination plant, conservation steps have brought per capita water consumption down to about 100 gallons per day.

“It’s not making as much sense to them now,” said Conner Everts, director of the Desal Response Group opposed to desalination. “There’s no sense of priorities. They just don’t make sense to run. I’ve been working on water issues for 30 years. I’ve watched our per capita use slowly drop. And we know we aren’t capturing and re-using as much as we should.”

The price of desalinated water varies depending largely on the cost of energy. It can average double or even quadruple the current price counties and cities pay for imported water in California. As desalination gets more efficient and the price of water keeps rising, supporters say those price lines will eventually cross. Wherever they cross, the price will be high.

On the Monterey peninsula where a $400 million desalination plant recently won final approval, residents there could be the first to feel the effects financially. The Public Utilities Commission has approved a plan to allow publicly traded California American Water to potentially quadruple water bills on 40,000 ratepayers in order to pay for the proposed plant. There is disagreement, however, over the exact effect on rates with the PUC arguing much less.
 
California American supplies around 40,000 ratepayers with tap water. Most of that water comes from the Carmel River.

“We’re pretty close to the bone on water conservation,” said Andy Bell of the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District, which issues water permits on the Carmel River. Indeed, the region has some of the lowest water use per capita in the state at around 70 gallons per day.

Beginning in 1995, the State Water Resources Control Board ordered the reduction in the amount of water it withdrew from the Carmel River by 70 percent by 2016 because of endangered steelhead. A ballot measure to build a damn was defeated later that year. Since then, efforts have turned to conservation and desalination.

When the desalination plant is completed, likely in several years, the Marina Coast Water District will own the plant while Cal-Am will purchase the water and pass the costs onto ratepayers. The Public Utilities Commission says consumers could pay up to 63 percent more for water, but a division within the PUC charged with representing ratepayers estimates the agreement could lock consumers into paying four times their current amount. The plant should produce around 10 million gallons of drinkable water per day when it is up and running.

Diana Brooks, with the Division of Ratepayer Advocates, said the division opposed the water purchase agreement approved by the PUC last year because it lacked meaningful cost controls.

“In this case you have a private water company contracting with two public agencies to deliver water and they have no ability to absorb any risk,” Brooks said. “If there are any risks or the project doesn’t work right, all the risk passes right back through to the customers.”

The PUC also granted Cal-Am the ability to pass through in its rates the costs of attorney fees up to $4.3 million, including the costs of fighting appeals by the Division of Ratepayer Advocates.

“So we’re representing the customers but the customers had to pay for the company’s attorney costs,” Brooks said.

Catherine Bowie with Cal-Am disagreed with Brooks’ assessment. “There is multiple cost controls in the water purchase agreement,” she said. “The facility is being developed by public agencies, so there will be every effort to go after the lowest costs. We have a number of provisions that deal with the management of the project. There is an independent analysis of financing and value engineering through design and construction. I absolutely think there are guarantees of cost control.”

Bowie said that after six years (an application with the PUC was originally filed in 2004) the area was ready to finalize its plans. “We have been in need of a new water supply here since the 1970s, and we are finally developing a solution to this problem,” Bowie said. 

Photo top right: Arturo Tolenttino, Surf City Voice

DC Bureau is staffed by award-winning journalists dedicated to bringing you in-depth stories covering the Environment and National Security.

Please Give Generously Now



Other Amount:



Your URL or E-mail :



Posted in Energy, Environment, Headlines, PoseidonComments (0)

Who Will Control Surf City? The Election of City Attorney – Is T. Gabe Houston Eligible?


John Earl
Surf City Voice

Editor’s note: This article is the second of a three part series.

On August 6, the last day for local candidates to file papers, T. Gabe Houston came to Huntington Beach City Hall and officially became incumbent City Attorney Jennifer McGrath’s opponent in the November election.

When he handed City Clerk Joan Flynn his list of 24 qualifying signatures, Huntington Beach City Councilmember Devin Dwyer’s name was at the top.

Who is T. Gabe Houston, anyway?

T. Gabe Houston

T. Gabe Houston, says it's up to voters to decide if he is qualified or not. Photo: Houston web site

Houston’s official candidate’s statement says he is an attorney, business owner, financial professional and member of the Huntington Beach Finance Board—he was appointed by councilmember Keith Bohr.

But a quick look at Houston’s professional web site (his lean campaign web site was uploaded just before press time) proves that he is not likely to be the candidate who Red County blog publisher Chip Hanlon bragged McGrath would probably face:  “the strongest challenger she could imagine this Fall (sic)…Extremely close in [Republican] party politics…close to the Rohrabachers…very recognizable name…connected to the donor community in a big way,”  a person who would make McGrath faint when she received the news.

Houston has none of those qualities.

In fact, he is a defense attorney, licensed for little over two years, with a business web site that is tagged with choice Republican voter turn-off terms like CraigslistPimp, HBHookers, HBPimps, Hookers, OC Hookers, OC Pimps, Pandering, Pimping, Prostitution, Selling Sex, etc. Read the full story

Posted in UncategorizedComments (6)

Fed Farm Subsidies Favor California Agribusiness


By Chris Hinyub
Special to the Surf City Voice

New data compiled by the Environmental Working Group shows that the majority of federal subsidy dollars granted to California farmers are being collected by the state’s largest agribusinesses. The new figures highlight the skewed priorities and rampant waste inherent in the USDA’s current subsidy program. In their own analysis of the numbers, the EWG calls for a more “intelligent and equitable strategy” to funding all areas of California’s diverse agricultural system.

Last year the top one percent of farm subsidy recipients in the state garnered a staggering $57 million in support, according to the latest update of the EWG Farm Subsidies database. That was an average of $453,000 per recipient. The lion’s share of this money went to cotton and rice growers. Compare this with the bottom 80 percent which received less than $1,400 a year on average.

California farmers who don’t grow cotton, rice, corn, livestock or wheat, receive little to no direct subsidy payments. Yet, almost half of California’s $36 billion a year farm revenue is generated outside the commodity crop market in the growing of fruits, vegetables and nuts – so called “specialty crops”. By comparison, rice and cotton accounted for less than three percent of market value of the state’s total agricultural output for 2008, the last year such statistics were available.

Nationally, 44 percent of federal crop subsidies went to cotton and rice farmers in 2009. Kari Hamerschlag, Senior Analyst at EWG, points out that “much of these subsidies came from programs that paid based on past production, whether or not cotton was still being grown.”

In fact, cotton acreage throughout the state has decreased dramatically since 2009 subsidy apportionment figures were cast. This means that unsustainable California agribusinesses are receiving a federal stipend while creating little (if any) revenue for the state.

In his analysis of the latest agricultural subsidy data, Hamerschlag writes, “The EWG Farm Subsidies database starkly reveals the imbalance, waste and skewed priorities of federal farm programs in California. It is a system that disproportionately benefits relatively few big growers of thirsty, chemical-dependent crops while failing to address the environmental challenges facing California agriculture.”

Specialty crop producers also rely on government support but through less-direct means. Some get their start through grants promoting water conservation, good land stewardship and overall farm sustainability.  Unfortunately, the disparity between commodity subsidy payments and agricultural conservation program funding is disproportionately impacting California.

“Nationally, EWG’s analysis found that the $13 billion paid out in 2009 in federal commodity subsidy payments and crop insurance premiums outpaced funding for agricultural conservation programs by more than 3-to-1,” writes Hamerschlag. “In California, the disparity was even greater: Subsidies outpaced conservation funding for agriculture by a more than 5-to-1 margin.”

California has the nation’s largest agricultural economy by far, but is surprisingly more resilient than other states to the effects of the ongoing “subsidy gap”, possibly owing to its rich diversity of agricultural goods.

Chris Hinyub writes for California Independent Voter Network, which originally published this story.

Please Give Generously Now



Other Amount:



Your URL or E-mail :



Posted in UncategorizedComments (0)


Donations

Please Give Generously Now



Other Amount:



Your URL or E-mail :



Calendar: Click for that day’s posts

April 2014
M T W T F S S
« Jun    
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
282930