Area officials are poised to present a united front on California American Water's proposed water supply project in testimony to the state Public Utilities Commission next week, agreeing on demands for public oversight and other conditions.
During a special meeting late Tuesday, the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District board of directors became the third local agency to unanimously back a call by Peninsula mayors for Cal Am's desal plant to meet certain conditions before earning the PUC's approval.
Conditions include a public governance committee that would be charged with keeping track of the project and acceptance of a public funding contribution designed to reduce the project's cost.
The board unanimously reaffirmed its call for all water supply projects to be publicly owned, but offered conditional support for Cal Am's proposal if it is approved by the PUC. The district is conducting a review of potential desal project alternatives in case Cal Am's proposal is delayed or falls through.
While the water district board didn't choose a representative for the governance committee, Sand City Mayor David Pendergrass, the board's president, indicated he will serve on an interim basis until the board formally designates its representative on Feb. 27, said water district General Manager Dave Stoldt.
The committee is designed to include representatives from the Peninsula mayors' water authority, the county Board of Supervisors and the water management district.
County supervisors agreed earlier Tuesday to support the conditions and named Supervisor Dave Potter its committee representative. The Peninsula water authority will finalize the committee and name a representative in a special session at 7 p.m. Thursday at Monterey City Hall.
Carmel Mayor Jason Burnett, the water authority's vice president, said he offered to serve on the committee. Burnett and Monterey Mayor Chuck Della Sala, the authority's president, worked closely with Cal Am for several weeks on the committee proposal.
Cal Am's board of directors agreed to the governance committee's proposal early Wednesday.
Burnett lauded the supervisors and water district directors for backing the committee and other project conditions, calling the decisions an important step forward for "public decision-making, transparency and accountability."
Burnett suggested Cal Am officials' agreement on the committee is a hopeful sign for the rest of the project conditions.
"They've met the first of eight conditions," he said. "Now we will work on the other seven."
Cal Am spokeswoman Catherine Bowie said company officials "are pleased by the broad-based support and look forward to resolving this decades-old problem with the help of our local leaders."
The governance committee would have authority over specific project details, such as choosing a value engineer, procuring a power supply, project aesthetics and deciding whether a recycled water proposal is capable of shrinking the size of the Cal Am desal plant.
The committee would offer recommendations for the rest of the project that could be rejected by Cal Am, sometimes triggering a formal written response from company officials. The committee will conduct regular public sessions subject to the state's open meetings laws.
Also Tuesday, the water district board unanimously approved Cal Am's new water demand projection — including supplies for lots of record, tourism recovery and Pebble Beach build-out — which has prompted company officials to seek a larger desal plant.
The board approved the use of a proposed surcharge on water bills for project expenses, provided the money is spent on "low-risk, tangible assets" and is subject to the PUC's stranded costs recovery process in an effort to reduce risk to ratepayers if the project is delayed by expensive litigation or ultimately fails.
On the district's search for contingency desal plans, Stoldt said Friday is the deadline for project proponents to submit responses to the district's request for qualifications issued Jan. 24. He said district staff would conduct a preliminary review to be included in PUC testimony.
Testimony is due Feb. 22 from participants in the PUC project review process. Evidentiary hearings are set for April 2-5 and April 8-11 at PUC headquarters in San Francisco.