On Wednesday, supporters of the grassroots group Public Water Now gathered to celebrate a victory. Volunteers collected more than enough signatures to get their initiative on the ballot. So come November, voters will once again decide whether they want to explore a public takeover of the Monterey Peninsula’s private water system.
“We’re so convinced that public water is a better deal for the local community than corporate water. We’re convinced of that or we wouldn’t be working as hard,” said Public Water Now Director George Riley.
Public Water Now ran a similar campaign back in 2014. It failed with 45% of the vote. If voters pass the initiative this time around, it would require the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District to study the feasibility of taking over the private water system.
The system is currently run by California American Water, which supports KAZU. The Water Management District estimates the study will cost $500,000, or about $12 per household.
If a takeover is feasible, the Water Management District must try to buy that local water system. Public Water Now estimates the price would be under $225 million and ratepayers would foot the bill. Riley says in the long run, publicly-owned water would mean more affordable water for residents.
“It’s for their future, man. It’s for their wallet. It’s for the community, it’s for the kids, it’s for the people that might want to live here later,” Riley said Wednesday.
Cal Am will fight Public Water Now’s initiative. The company already funded a mailing campaign asking people to remove their signatures. Once the signatures are validated, spokesperson Catherine Stedman says the private water company will enter into a formal campaign against the initiative.
“I drive around the community and I see signs from Public Water Now saying, “Do you want affordable water?” I think what they're really representing to people is that if you vote for this initiative, your water bill will go down. And that is something that is just absolutely not true,” says Stedman.
Stedman says Cal Am is not for sale and says a buyout would lead to a long legal battle.
She says the initiative is a distraction from securing alternative water sources for the Monterey Peninsula. The company is under an order from the State Water Resources Control Board to reduce pumping from the Carmel River. Cal Am has been working for years on a seawater desalination project. The final environmental report on the project was recently released.