The sign declaring “Your water bill at work” is, in the eyes of water activist Michael Baer, a big, fat lie.
It is posted at a worksite in Monterey where crews are installing a 36-inch water transmission line that eventually will be used to transport Cal Am water.
The problem, says Baer, is that the bills paid by Cal Am customers for the most expensive water in the country do not yet include the costs of the pipeline. That cost was originally estimated at $40 million but the pricetag has since risen to $53 million. What that means, Baer says, is that it is future Cal Am water bills that will be paying for the work. In other words, another rate increase.
In recent years, Cal Am has been authorized to charge more and more, sometimes just to maintain its profit margin and at other times for special reasons. For instance, Baer noted, the current bills include the cost of removing San Clemente Dam, which had silted up because Cal Am failed to maintain it. They also include a $40 million-plus award to Cal Am to cover the cost of water that wasn’t used because of conservation efforts by customers.
“Our water bills, the most expensive in the country according to Food & Water Watch, do not reflect a single penny collected towards paying for the Monterey pipeline costs,” Baer said.
Also still to come on water bills are incomplete slant well test as part of Cal Am’s desalination project. That 27-month test was initially pegged to cost $4 million. It’s around $16 million now, Baer said.
And then, of course, added on to the water bills will be the cost of the desalination plant itself. Early on, it was estimated to cost $280 million. Regardless of whether it ever gets built, the state will enable Cal Am to bill customers for its expenses.
Michael Baer is a retired public school science teacher, a 30-plus year resident of the Monterey Peninsula, and a water activist.