Guest commentary: In defense of Marina Coast Water District

Peninsula Premier Admin

As a resident of Marina and the president of the Board of Directors of Marina Coast Water District, I feel it is very important to correct inaccurate statements provided by former Congressman Sam Farr. Yes, MCWD has needed to expend legal fees in the past few years; however, the bulk of those fees are to protect our precious water source from California American Water. Cal Am seeks to construct a desalination plant that will degrade our sole water supply source, groundwater, and cause further saltwater intrusion into our basin.  Cal Am proposes to pump groundwater without groundwater rights and recently withdrew its application to the Coastal Commission for those wells after Coastal Commission staff recommended denial of the permit due to the project’s environmental impacts and infeasibility.

The report also found the project involved “the most significant environmental justice concerns the Commission has considered” due in part to the project’s impacts on MCWD’s customers.

In fact, Friday, when the Herald article was published online, MCWD obtained a big win in its case against Monterey County and Cal Am. A Monterey County judge found that the County “seemed to defy logic and common sense” when it provided Cal Am a permit to build the desal plant without a water source.  Therefore, the court has sided with MCWD and ruled the County must rescind its approval of Cal Am’s desalination plant.

Bay View Community DE, LLC v. MCWD, referenced in the Herald article, was brought by a mobile home park owner which has not paid its water bills for more than six years.  District’s accounting records indicate the owner owes over $850,000 in unpaid bills to MCWD. Bay View also seeks to have MCWD take over the internal water/sewer system, built and owned by Bay View, which would shift the costs to maintain and upgrade that system away from the owner of a $70-plus million private property onto MCWD’s other Ord ratepayers. Both parties attended mediation but the case has not settled and is ongoing.

Mr. Farr argues the grand jury should investigate the differential between the rates for the former Fort Ord versus central Marina.  In fact, the civil grand jury published a public report in 2017 finding the higher costs for the Ord cost center are justified because the Ord system is larger and older than central Marina, requiring more operation, maintenance and replacement expenses.

Mr. Farr compares MCWD’s employees’ salaries to those of the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District’s (MPWMD) and calls for MPWMD to take over MCWD.  First, this is like comparing apples to grapefruits because the MPWMD does not provide water or sewer services as MCWD does.  Cal Am is the water purveyor for MPWMD’s constituents, so the cost of Cal Am’s staff and Cal Am’s water rates must be included in any comparison. The MPWMD regulates water use within the Peninsula and has a part in wholesaling water from Pure Water Monterey to Cal Am.  MPWMD does not require the significant expert staffing that MCWD does such as certified system operators, professional engineers, and customer service representatives.

MCWD is the only public water and sewer collection provider in the Peninsula community, and when compared to public agencies that serve only wastewater such as Carmel Wastewater Agency, Monterey One Water, and Pebble Beach Community Services District, MCWD has the lowest combined salary and benefits average per employee.  This can be easily verified by reviewing the State Controller’s website. So, while Farr is correct in stating that the MPWMD average salaries are lower than MCWD, it is because the services provided are not equivalent.  In fact, MCWD is one of very few organizations in the state where the System Operators are cross-trained in water and sewer, which greatly reduces the number of staff required to run the system, thus reducing the overall costs to MCWD’s ratepayers.

Cal Am has a five-tier billing system and their typical residential bill is at least double the cost of an MCWD bill and that is without desal, which will further increase rates.  Mr. Farr supports a private investor-owned for-profit company where ratepayers have no public input or decision making, providing less transparency than MCWD’s customers have.

In closing, Mr. Farr has done good things for the Peninsula but he needs to understand water rates and good customer service. I respectfully submit this letter to set the record straight.

These views are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the MCWD or its Board of Directors.

Contributed by local news sources

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