Water Politics

March 23, 2018 / Public Water Now

Cal Am Attempts to Disrupt the Public Water Now Petition Drive

By Melodie Chrislock

On March 17 voters on the Monterey Peninsula received a mailer from Monterey Water Works paid for by California American Water. It asked them to withdraw their signature from the Public Water Now ballot petition based on what Cal Am claimed were inaccurate and misleading statements made by Public Water Now (PWN). The mailing included a preprinted form for voters to sign and a prepaid envelope. In the week that followed they started a calling campaign repeating the same baseless accusations, asking voters to un-sign the PWN petition.

Many voters were angry at Cal Am for their deceptive attempt to interfere in the ballot initiative process. Many wondered who Monterey Water Works were and how they had gotten their names, addresses and phone numbers. PWN would never give out the names of those who signed the petition. Cal Am or some group working for them purchased an address/phone list for the Monterey Peninsula. Thus even if you had not signed the PWN Petition you may have been contacted by Monterey Water Works or Field Works.
With only two weeks left to collect signatures before the March 31st deadline, PWN was appalled by Cal Am’s act of desperation and deceit. It was sad to see how they had mischaracterized our intentions and the facts we had already published. Most voters saw right through Cal Am’s disinformation campaign. It appears to have back fired as many more voters, who had not yet signed the petition, came forward wanting to sign.

PWN would like to set the record straight on Cal Am's false claims

The Public Water Now initiative does NOT increase the cost of water on the Peninsula, unfortunately Cal Am has done a great job of that all by themselves. The initiative does not in any way interfere with new water supplies or put our future water security at risk.

The PWN initiative does NOT raise property taxes. There are no property taxes involved. The bond to buy Cal Am would be paid back on our water bills and offset by the $19 million that Cal Am now takes annually in corporate profit and pays in taxes.

Despite Cal Am’s attempt to downplay it, the Monterey Peninsula does have the most expensive water in the country according to the Food & Water Watch study, done in 2015 and updated in 2017. This is the largest study of its kind ever done. Food & Water Watch looked at the 500 largest public and private water providers in the nation. They found that the average cost of publicly owned water across the country was $315 a year, while the annual average for privately owned water was $500. In their 2017 update they found that the Peninsula’s annual cost was $1202! That is the most expensive water in the country.

Cal Am claims that the study “used unrealistic usage numbers.” But Food & Water Watch based the study on 60,000 gallons annually. This is in no way excessive or unrealistic water use. In fact it is a moderate monthly use of 5,000 gallons, which would only be a tier 2 water user under Cal Am’s system of billing. Here are the links to the Food & Water Watch original study and the 2017 update.

What does the PWN initiative really do?

The initiative, if passed, requires the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District (MPWMD) to conduct a feasibility study as a first step in getting the facts on a public buyout of Cal Am. If the facts show that a public buyout is financially feasible and in the public interest, only then would a buyout of Cal Am by MPWMD be initiated.

What About Felton?

In 2008 Felton succeeded in buying their water system back from Cal Am. But comparing Felton and Monterey is like comparing apples and oranges. Felton has less than 1400 water connections, the Peninsula has close to 40,000. Tiny water systems typically have higher costs for water than larger systems like ours.

Felton pays $101 a month for 5400 gallons of water. We pay $115 for that same amount. Felton chose to finance the bond to buyout Cal Am with property taxes. So they also pay $37 a month in property taxes to pay off the bond. They are paying a total of $138 a month for water and their buyout cost. Amazingly that is only $23 dollars a month more than we are paying just for water.

Felton is quite happy with their decision. By their calculations if they had stayed with Cal Am for the past 10 years, they would be paying about twice as much for water as they do now.

Public Buyouts of Private Water Companies

The experience of other communities who have taken their water back from private ownership supports the fact that publicly owned water is less expensive. Public takeovers in the communities of Montara, in San Mateo county, Ojai, in southern California and Missoula, Montana have all led to lower water costs under public ownership. See Missoula’s story here.

What can we expect from Cal Am?

“Public Water Now has been diligent in educating the community with the facts. Unfortunately we don’t expect that Cal Am will do the same. Voters should ask themselves, why is Cal Am so opposed to a vote to get the facts on a public buyout? The answer is, follow the money.

March 21, 2018 / Voices of Monterey Bay

The Partisan | A Sad New Cal Am Tactic

New mailer, a signal of desperation, is filled with serious deceptions

By Royal Calkins

It should surprise no one, not even Cal Am’s pals in the business community, that the company will stop at nothing in its latest effort to prevent a public takeover of its water monopoly on the Monterey Peninsula.

Four years ago, in the run-up to ballot Measure O, the utility outspent takeover advocates by some 20-1 and ended up winning a close race that likely would have gone the other way if the company hadn’t bought so much deceptive campaign advertising. Read more.


July 8, 2017 / Washington Post

Towns Sell Their Public Water Systems — and Come to Regret It

By Elizabeth Douglass

LAKE STATION, Ind. — This hard-luck town just south of Chicago is weighing a decision confronting many small and midsize cities with shrinking populations and chronic budget deficits: whether to sell the public water system to a for-profit corporation. Read More.


May 20, 2017 / Monterey Herald

Public Agency Best Alternative to Cal Am

By Bill Hood

Ratepayers, let’s make this plain and simple: Cal Am has got to go and public water has to replace it. Read more.



April 13, 2017 / Monterey Herald

New Public Takeover Bid Takes Aim at Cal Am, Expects to Go on Ballot in 2018

By Jim Johnson

If all goes according to plan, Monterey Peninsula residents could get a second chance to approve a public takeover of California American Water’s local operation. Read more.


April 11, 2017 / Monterey Bay Partisan

It's Time for Cal Am to Pack Up Its Profits and Close Up Shop

By Royal Calkins

Public effort should be favored this time. Read more.


October 8, 2016 / Monterey Herald

Why We Need Measure Z

By Jeanne Turner, guest commentary

I am a member of the Protect Monterey County coalition that helped write the Measure Z initiative.

Since our governor accepts large contributions from Big Oil, he is not going to support a ban on fracking in California, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo did for New York.

Despite the unanimous recommendation of the Monterey County Planning Commission, the Board of Supervisors, by a 3-2 margin, voted not to place a moratorium on fracking in the county. That left us no alternative but to place an initiative on the ballot. All statements made in the initiative had to be supported by documented research before the attorneys would include them in the initiative’s language. The main reason our coalition put Measure Z on the ballot is because of the horrific water contamination taking place.

The oil production in San Ardo is done by steam injection or flooding. The steam is put down one well to loosen up the viscous oil in the tar sands, and then both the oil and water are brought up through what is called a production well. What is produced along with the liquified oil is wastewater — water that went down there to liquify it. It is contaminated by the chemicals in the oil and by arsenic and lead naturally occurring in the soil.

One-third of this 13.8 million gallons of water used daily is cleaned by reverse osmosis, but two-thirds of it is put into wastewater injection wells that go down into “protected” aquifers. For decades, oil companies have operated in the county with little oversight or environmental review.

For example, local oil operators have been disposing of their wastewater using injection wells for many years, in violation of the U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act. In fall 2015, the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board notified six oil companies — Chevron and Aera the two largest — that 35 out of their 44 wells are illegally injecting wastewater into protected aquifers near the Salinas River. Letters were sent giving owners of these wells until February 2017 to cease use of these wells, or get exemptions from the Department of Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) — a regulatory agency that generally caves in and grants exemptions so the practice of water contamination continues. That’s why we have to stop this, and our only remaining alternative is to use the initiative process.

John Steinbeck wrote of the Salinas River being an “upside down river,” not because it flows north but because there is far more water hidden as groundwater than can be seen in the river itself. It is all the same water, fed by the underground aquifers.

It is not a matter of if, but when the Salinas River groundwater will become irreversibly contaminated. As the river flows north from San Ardo it impacts agriculture and tourism, Monterey County’s top two industries, ultimately flowing out into the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary where there are myriad species of sea life.

Despite all the hype in the No on Z television ads, the oil extraction companies pay only 1 percent or less of the property tax collected in Monterey County. There are fewer than 200 workers in the oil fields, most of whom are brought in from outside the area by contractors. The crude oil is put on trains that go down to L.A., where it goes out on the open market. It does not make Monterey County energy independent.

What you are hearing and seeing are scare tactics from an industry that has enjoyed the freedom to do pretty much as it wished, thanks to the Halliburton Act. Can the rest of us put dirty water into clean aquifers? No, the water we use goes through sewage treatment. Every other industry is required to clean its wastewater.

The industry will have to clean up all its contaminated water (not just the 30 percent that they clean now). Even with water cleanup, profits will remain in the billions.

Does our initiative shut down oil operations in San Ardo? No. They are allowed to continue using the over 1,500 wells in existence. No jobs will be lost because the oil companies are not serious about shutting down if Measure Z passes. The 1 percent of the county’s property tax that they pay will still be there. In fact, cleaning all their contaminated water (not just 30 percent of it, as they do now) would provide new jobs. So passing Measure Z will actually result in a net increase in jobs.

Those interested in the Yes on Z campaign can contact me or go to protectmontereycounty.org/. We now have two headquarters — one at 1340 Munras Ave., Suite 308, Monterey, and the other at 521 S. Main St., Salinas. Both are open 3 to 7:30 p.m. weekdays and 9 to 11 a.m. and 3 to 7:30 p.m. on weekends; 831-272-2084.

Jeanne Turner lives in Monterey.


February 6, 2016 / Monterey Herald

A Lost Opportunity to Stand Up to Cal Am

By Bill Hood, Guest commentary 

The Herald, in its most recent editorial, said a lot — but overlooked even more. The paper has been a regular supporter of Cal Am in its “efforts” to build a desal plant that is touted as the solution to the Peninsula’s longstanding water supply problems. So it was not a surprise that the paper took water activists to task for continuing their efforts to derail Cal Am. To generously paraphrase, the paper assuredly concluded: the activists are losers (e.g., Measure O lost by 10 percent!); Cal Am is the only viable organization that can bring us the water we absolutely have to have; and we need water so, activists, back off and play in your sand box by yourselves!

Agreeing with The Herald or not, it is unfortunately true that the paper’s conclusions are lockstep with Peninsula locally elected officials and with the hospitality community (at least most of the time).

However, in writing the piece, The Herald somehow overlooked these facts:

  • Cal Am will not meet the cease-and-desist order to stop taking water for which it has no rights from the Carmel River;
  • Cal Am, for many negative reasons, has failed to meet several deadlines that it had originally imposed on itself regarding progress on the desal project;
  • Allegations have been made, some in public to the California Public Utilities Commission and the California Coastal Commission regarding possible data manipulations and water rights violations in the areas of the slant wells;
  • Serious concerns have been expressed that Cal Am is unfairly seeking rates that will provide them revenue lost because customers achieved the state’s highest level of water conservation; and
  • The Herald never mentioned costs. Oh well, I guess that doesn’t matter that the costs resulting from delays and questionable efforts of Cal Am are all potentially recoverable from their ratepayers …

How can anyone say that all is well; keep the train on the tracks, stay the course, don’t rock the boat, and those who do, step aside?

The saddest part is that the current situation did not have to happen. It wasn’t ordained in stone that we would come to this place in time with so many serious loose ends clouding the Cal Am project, with the backdrop that ratepayers ultimately may be hit where it really hurts in future years.

For me, the realization as to where all of this was going started back in 2012, when the CPUC approved a recommendation that totally disagreed with the judge who held the rate case and which ended up giving Cal Am many millions of dollars more to dismantle the San Clemente Dam. Efforts were made prior to the decision to get local politicians involved to step in and protest about the unfairness and inequity of such a possible outcome. The response was total silence (except for a few personal emails sent here and there).

Then, two years later, the mayors formed their famed water group, promising to get tough with Cal Am and ensure that the project would end up being both reliable and affordable. From the very beginning, they genuflected to Cal Am’s whims. It’s not hard to see why the mayors initially supported Cal Am — its competitors were not in a mature enough status to be seriously considered at the time. However, as Cal Am continued to move sideways, then backward, then sideways, then forward but in violation of who knows what (ethics and fraud if data were manipulated, etc.) and the competitors’ projects were gaining steam and authenticity, did the mayors take a deep breath and seriously reconsider whether their unconditional support of Cal Am should be revisited? No, they did not

To this very day, their support is like a fine old lap dog — the master can do no wrong.

But what if the mayors, from the beginning, had stated to Cal Am and their voters we will support Cal Am, but only if your actions are consistent with our specific intent to not only support you but ensure that our constituents will not end up being thrown to the dogs, rate-wise.

They had that opportunity. They refused to take it. Sometimes politics causes very good people to hang on to a decision that becomes very questionable. That has happened here.

St. Paul, in his famous colloquy on the nature of love, stated that three things remain — faith, hope and love — but the strongest is love. With respect to the Cal Am project, three things remain — the CPUC, Cal Am itself and elected Peninsula officials. Right now, the officials are the weakest, and the CPUC and Cal Am are in a heated tie for first.

Bill Hood is the former executive director of AMBAG. He resides in Carmel and Columbus, Ohio.