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Friday’s Carmel Pine Cone contained two unvarnished attempts to vilify Public Water Now, the group leading the upcoming attempt at a public takeover of Cal Am Water. George Riley, the extremely water-savvy managing director of Public Water Now, usually doesn’t let the Pine Cone’s excoriations get to him, but this heavy-handed and apparently erroneous attack got under his skin.

In a letter to the Pine Cone and the rest of local press corps, Riley calls reporter Kelly Nix’s front page story on Public Water Now “appalling” and argues that the companion editorial on April 21 was “riddled with inaccuracies, misrepresentations and assumptions.”

Riley goes on to demand a retraction and clarification though he said he doesn’t expect either. Pine Cone Editor and Publisher Paul Miller has been an unquestioning promoter of Cal Am at least since the turn of the century, and Cal Am has been a significant advertiser in the weekly publication. Efforts to control Cal Am’s rapidly escalating price structure or to scrutinize the company’s flawed and increasingly expensive desalination project have been met with derision, even ridicule from Miller.

In the news article on Friday, Nix focuses on a letter to Public Water Now from the Peninsula mayors’ water committee, saying it had been signed by the committee chairman, Pacific Grove Mayor Bill Kampe. In his letter of response, Riley says the letter was not signed by Kampe or anyone else, was not approved by the mayors’ committee and was not even sent.

“People who were at the meeting confirmed that the letter under discussion was not approved,” Riley wrote. “I watched the tape of the entire meeting. The Pine Cone is dead wrong in its report.”

A draft of the letter was considered as a possible response to a March letter from Riley in which he criticized the desalination venture in general and its reliance on so-called slant wells. He correctly notes that the slant-well technology, despite being favored by regulators, has not been put to at any desalination plant in the world. Nix sought to rebut that by quoting Cal Am officials as saying their controversial testing of the technology is going well. The testing process was interrupted by disclosures of conflicts of interests involving the designer of the technology.

“It’s most unfortunate for readers when the Pine Cone reports unsubstantiated information as fact,” Riley wrote. The account “was NOT based on what the mayors said.”

“It must feel exciting for a small paper to believe it has a big scoop, then pontificate with an editorial,” Riley continued. “But it is a serious breach of journalistic ethics, and your responsibility to this community, to fail to verify, or to ignore that step altogether.”

Riley retired as chief housing officer for San Mateo County and ever since has led Peninsula efforts to control Cal Am’s water rates and to put the private company into public hands in hopes of controlling costs.

Direct links to the Pine Cone article and the editorial are not included in this post because the weekly newspaper’s technology does not accommodate linkage. Those wanting to read those pieces can, however, go to the Pine Cone’s online archive (Google Carmel Pine Cone archive or click here) and then click on the line labeled “download this week’s edition” and wait for a download of a facsimile of Friday’s paper.

Nix’s article gives no indication that he sought any comment from Riley before posting his piece and Riley says he was not approached. The Partisan sent an email to Nix before working hours Tuesday and had not heard back as of 11 a.m. This report will be updated if he responds.

Unlike Nix’s story, Miller’s editorial makes no pretense of objectivity.

“… This community’s water activists must be the dumbest people in the world,” he writes.

“Not only do they incessantly fight every single thing that might help eliminate our perennial water shortage, they simply won’t give up on the idea of a government takeover of Cal Am, no matter how many times the public tells them, ‘No.’”

It goes on like that for several more paragraphs. He says the activists are opposed to desalination, slant wells, pipelines and even water recycling “for utterly nonsensical and self-serving reasons,”none of which he mentions.

He writes that the activists “hate private business and have a deep narcissistic desire to get everybody else to hate businesses, too.”

He concludes, “The only intelligent thing for the activists to do would be to devote their energy to helping solve the Monterey Peninsula’s water problem, and stop pursuing their little takeover hobby until the shortage is gone.

“The problem is that little word, ‘intelligent.’ We don’t know how smart the activists are. But anybody can see how stupid they act.”

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Ronald T Cohen April 25, 2017, 11:46 am

    The Carmel Pine Cone editorial department has been the defacto “Fake News” organization of the Monterey Peninsula since Paul Miller took over as editor. And Paul Miller, the most thin-skinned editor on the Peninsula, never wants to be confused by the facts. It won’t be until Mr. Miller actually sees the increased cost of living index actually affect the real estate market (something PWN is trying to avoid), that his love affair with Cal Am will wane. People who tell you that other people are stupid are often the ones you should be most concerned about.

  • Melodie Chrislock April 25, 2017, 11:47 am

    Here is the offending piece of “journalism” in question. Royal, thanks for pointing out what the Pine Cone passes off as reality to their readers.

    Carmel Pine Cone April 21st
    Mayors say ‘quality of life at risk’ from water activists

    Kelly Nix

    THE MONTEREY Peninsula’s mayors have rejected a water activist group’s claims that California American Water’s proposed desalination plant in Marina is based on “poor science” and that the utility has “no water rights” to operate it.

    In a March letter to the mayors, Peninsula city councils and numerous state and local agencies, Cal Am critic George Riley and his advocacy group, Public Water Now, outlined their concerns about the company’s desal proposal, pointing to two “alarming deficiencies” with the project.

    Among Riley’s longstanding grievances with the desal plant is what he claims is “poor science” around the feasibility of slant wells — the technology that Cal Am was forced by state regulators to implement to draw seawater for its desal operation.

    His complaints come despite Cal Am’s lengthy testing of the slant wells and numerous declarations from engineers that they’re working.

    “There are no completed, successful slant wells operating for ocean desalination intake anywhere in the United States
    or the world,” Riley claimed.

    ‘No merit’

    However, in an April 13 response to Riley, the Monterey Peninsula Regional Water Authority — composed of the six mayors — said he “misrepresents the current situation, specifically with the test well and the topic of water rights.”

    The response, signed by Pacific Grove Mayor Bill Kampe, goes further, accusing the activist group of trying to logjam the water project.

    “We also believe that the efforts by Public Water Now to delay the [water project] are ill advised and put the welfare and quality of life of all water users at risk of rationing,” the mayors said.

    Regarding the slant-well technology, “state agencies require a feasibility study of this new technology,” Riley said. “With an untested and experimental design, the highest standard of scientific testing must be made.”

    Kampe noted that since the test well went online, it’s yielded “excellent operating results,” and that monitoring “indicates very minimal impacts on local groundwater.”

    An actual well

    In Cal Am’s response to Riley’s concerns, Ian Crooks, the company’s vice president of engineering, told the mayors that the “best science” to determine the feasibility of slant wells is by drilling and operating “an actual slant well,” which the company has been testing in the Marina Dunes since April 2015. He also called the results from the test “outstanding.”

    The test operation has “proved unequivocally over its 480 days of pumping that slant wells are a feasible technology for our project,” Crooks said.

    Since it began, the engineer said the slant well has “consistently pumped 2,000 gallons per minute” during operation, which the company had predicted. He also said the testing “indicates no measurable loss of well capacity over time and confirms the design for future wells.”

    The test well has drawn an average of 92 percent seawater, which is short of the 96 percent that Cal Am hoped for when it turned it on.

    However, Crooks said there have been no mechanical problems and that water quality data posted weekly on a website for the water project “confirms that test slant-well technology is feasible while meeting our project objectives consistent with project assumptions.”

    Cal Am is pursuing slant-well technology for the desal plant because the California Coastal Commission, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and the State Water Resources Control Board insist that the well technology be used instead of open-ocean intakes, which can kill marine life.

    Water rights?

    In a claim that’s been reported countless times, Riley contends that Cal Am “has no water rights in the Salinas Groundwater Basin,” and therefore shouldn’t be permitted to operate a desal plant in its proposed location, because the well would draw some groundwater along with the ocean water it’s intended to.

    “The fundamental determination of legal water rights must be made now, before further infrastructure investment and before more project approvals,” Riley claimed. “Feasibility depends on water rights.”

    The mayors also rebuffed that contention, saying that the draft environmental impact report for the project released in January is clear that Cal Am’s wells would draw water not suitable for drinking or irrigating crops.

    Essentially, the EIR says that “if the extraction of other- wise unusable basin groundwater will not harm lawful water users — and any fresh water extracted can be returned to the basin without injury to existing legal water users — then Cal Am would have rights to the portion of feedwater that comes from the basin …,” Kampe wrote.

    Crooks reminded the mayors of the Public Utilities Commission’s decision in 2013 to seek an opinion from the state water board on whether Cal Am “could establish adequate water rights” for the desal plant.

    Following a 10-month review, the water board determined that the company didn’t need water rights to pump ocean water, Crooks noted, and that the incidental intake of a small amount of groundwater wouldn’t be significant.

    “Again, 92 percent of the water drawn from the test slant well is ocean water,” Crooks said. “The remaining amount is highly brackish water that is unusable for irrigation or human consumption.”

    Returning water

    While the draft EIR indicated that the proposed desal plant would not harm other Salinas Valley groundwater users, the company has agreed to return any water it happens to take.

    “We have entered into an agreement with the Castroville Community Services District to return any portion of water drawn by the project deemed groundwater to the basin,” Crooks said.

    Public Water Now’s website says one of its priorities is promoting “lower cost desal through competition,” but the mayors noted that group has not proposed a “specific preferred alternative” to Cal Am’s proposal.

    “You have urged the CPUC to deny the EIR and delay the project,” the mayors told the activist group. “We believe such a course creates high risks for the water users of our area.”

    Cal Am is pursuing the Marina desal plant to comply with the water board’s order to stop pumping most of the Peninsula’s potable water from the Carmel River.

    The mayors urged Public Water Now to recognize the “timely need for an alternate water supply, and the credible and substantial progress made so far” on Cal Am’s proposal.

    “Delay in taking the next essential steps can only serve to cause increased costs for ratepayers, and painful water rationing in the future,” they said.

    Meanwhile, Riley is also promising to launch yet another ballot measure to turn Cal Am into a publicly owned utility. Similar takeover attempts have failed numerous times in the Peninsula’s history, including November 2004 (63 percent to 37 percent), and June 2014 (55 percent to 45 percent).

    • Amy anderson April 25, 2017, 12:11 pm

      Once again those interested in protecting the public from the exorbitant and ever climbing water rates have been excoriated in the Pine Cone (Fri 4-21) by fake news fan Editor Paul Miller. Kelly Nix adds to the insult by penning a ‘report’ that is also full of errors. The Pine Cone is doing its readers a huge disservice -something residents have surely gotten used to by now. What utter disrespect to the community to call such reports and editorials news or fact-based. Shame on the Pine Cone.

  • Louis MacFarland April 25, 2017, 1:20 pm

    Royal, you made a small typo, it reads “and Cal Am has been a significant advertiser in the weekly publication.”, it should read “and Cal Am has been a significant advertiser in the weakly publication.”

  • Richard H. Rosenthal April 25, 2017, 2:21 pm

    Typical Pine Cone Editorial hyperbole. Hopefully not to many people take this guy seriously.

  • Michael Baer April 25, 2017, 2:34 pm

    I was at the Mayors’ meeting in question, and will confirm that no letter was approved; the item was essentially continued, as Mayor Kampe and Mayor Roberson agreed to continue to work on the re-write. The language of the draft letter that was considered at the meeting is reasonably consistent with how Nix reported it, but once again the item was continued.

    I concur with Royal and others that the Pine Cone is generally a distributor for CalAM propaganda, and is completely and un-apologetically slanted in CalAm’s favor. I think the fact that they ran the article without even attempting to contact Mr. Riley for comment speaks volumes about their editorial integrity. The paper does make excellent fire starter however. You don’t have to be the dumbest people in the world to realize that burning the Pine Cone is one of the most useful ways to utilize it.

  • john moore April 25, 2017, 2:35 pm

    The Marina Coast Water District(MCWD) rates are significantly lower than the Cal-Am rates and it is a government entity. That fact is generic proof of the case for Public Water Now(PNC).

    Having said that, I hope that PWN chooses a credible entity to manage the Cal-Am water business after the buy out. The buy out will be by a local governmental agency, or a new Joint Powers Authority(JPA), but I hope that the PNC Initiative to buy out Cal-Am obtains an advance deal with MCWD that provides that it will run the business for say 10 years, with options.

    The reason for an agreement with MCWD is because it is a successful local governmental water company which alleviates the risk of an affiliation with an Agency like the Monterey Bay Water Management District. (MBWMD)which has failed to provide us with a genuine water source for about forty years. It has failed to avert the water emergency. It has zero experience at managing a water company.

    Capturing MCWD from the beginning guarantees experienced local management by an entity that has reasonable water rates while existing side by side with the failed system of Cal-Am.

    • Michael Baer April 25, 2017, 2:59 pm

      I second that notion!

      And whether it is MCWD or some other public entity to own and operate the PUBLIC utility, any public ownership would eliminate the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) as the rate setter, eliminate profits from the equation, eliminates stockholders as the primary beneficiaries, and replace those shareholders with the true shareholders, the local citizens who use and rely on the precious and essential resource for life and livelihood.

    • Michael Baer April 25, 2017, 3:02 pm

      I second that notion!

      And whether it is MCWD or some other public entity to own and operate the PUBLIC utility, any public ownership would eliminate the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) as the rate setter, eliminate profits from the equation, eliminate stockholders as the primary beneficiaries, and replace those shareholders with the true shareholders, the local citizens who use and rely on the precious and essential resource for life and livelihood.

  • Richard Kreitman April 25, 2017, 5:49 pm

    I look at the Carmel Pine Cone as a community treasure and accept Paul Miller’s editorial rants as an entertaining diversion, at times trying to guess how many sheets to the wind he was while writing. Sometimes I agree with him, often I don’t. And this time he’s so bloody wrong it’s ridiculous, and the Kelly Nix lead story is a blatant example of the journalistic sin of reporting opinion as news. However, one should appreciate that he often publishes letters that forcefully disagree with him, and hope he does so this week with George Riley’s. We’ll find out in this Friday’s Pine Cone.

    • Royal Calkins April 25, 2017, 5:58 pm

      Yes, he often publishes letters disagreeing with his work, but he just as often ignores them. Then there was the time he ran a letter from someone he had criticized, and on the same page wrote an editorial grossly mischaracterizing and misquoting that letter.

    • Anne Jones April 26, 2017, 12:10 pm

      It is not a community treasure but a perpetuator of fake news, near slander, and misinformation and gossip. They take it to a level of artful skill. History has demonstrated this every other week for a decade.

  • Luana Conley April 28, 2017, 9:01 am

    SOP for the Coneheads. Nix wasn’t interested in actually talking to anyone involved in Measure Z either. The advertising salesman, now he could find us!

  • bill leone April 29, 2017, 4:57 pm

    In my opinion, the editorials in the Pine Cone are, like the editorials on KSBW, more often gibberish than not.