Just the facts: Where’s the water for CCWD?

Posted by on Wed, July 2, 2008

Paul Perkovic is Board President of the Montara Water and Sanitary District (MWSD), however this article reflects his individual views and does not indicate a position of the District.

Coastside County Water District (CCWD) is at the limits of its ability to serve the needs of its current customers and may have serious problems meeting the demands of planned growth in its service area, even if there is no drought in the foreseeable future.

Source: Table I, Annual Production of Water Supply Sources in MG, 1997 - 2007, from the Water Supply Workshop.
Click for larger version of this chart.

CCWD’s water sources

This chart summarizes the current situation as described by CCWD in a Water Supply Strategic Planning Workshop on Thursday, June 26. CCWD serves water users in Half Moon Bay and El Granada. Moss Beach and Montara are served by the Montara Water and Sanitary District (MWSD). Growth in water demand from 2000 to 2007 has required CCWD to supply 20% more water for its customers, as shown by the yellow line.

CCWD buys 82% of its water from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), shown by the green line. SFPUC water comes from Pilarcitos Lake and the Crystal Springs Reservoir, which is fed from the Hetch Hetchy dam near Yosemite, via a complex system of reservoirs, pump stations, and pipelines.

CCWD’s local supply comes from wells near Pilarcitos Creek, which runs through Half Moon Bay, plus wells near and surface diversion from Denniston Creek, just north of El Granada. CCWD’s production is shown by the blue line.

CCWD’s contract with SFPUC allows it to purchase up to 800 million gallons per year, shown by the solid red line. The dashed red line represents CCWD’s drought scenario supply, at 620 million gallons per year.

This planning scenario anticipates a significant cutback in water from SFPUC (all member agencies would share in this cutback during a severe drought) combined with the historic low yield from local sources.

What is CCWD’s drought plan?

Comparing the source and quantity of water supplied by CCWD in 2000 and 2007 shows:

  • Total water supplied by CCWD is up 20% over just 7 years
  • Local water production has plummeted 36% since 2000
  • The amount of water purchased from SFPUC is up 47%, nearly to the limit
  • CCWD’s dependence on SFPUC water rose from 67% to 82% of total supply

These trends are simply not sustainable, even for a few more years. CCWD appears to be on the brink of a water supply disaster, which the current drought situation only magnifies:

  • CCWD used 96% of its available SFPUC water in 2007
  • CCWD has already sold connections that could add 20% more customers
  • Current demand is 50% higher than drought scenario supplies
  • CCWD would have to increase its local production by nearly 5% to increase its water supply by 1%.

CCWD has a drought scenario based on expected cutbacks in SFPUC water during a severe drought and the historical low yield from local sources. That planning scenario expects CCWD to have only 620 million gallons available – to meet current use of 931.68 million gallons. In other words, CCWD customers already use 50% more water than CCWD expects to have available in a severe drought.

Matthew 7:5 “First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly enough to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

As a resident of Montara I sincerely hope that our elected board members are tightly focused on increasing the water supply for MWSD customers while improving the water quality, lowering our water bills and in building strategic alliances with neighboring communities.

As a MWSD customer, I’m grateful to Paul’s perspective on CCWD.

Some folks are beginning to urge the merging of MWSD and CCWD, so the residents of each district need to understand how the other works. Particularly where their water comes from and where it goes.

Paul’s perspective is especially valuable because he knows the Coastside water situation well and has no vested interest in defending CCWD.  It’s the conversation that help us understand the situation, and CCWD board member Jim Larimer has been carping about MWSD for a while now.

Mark 12:31 “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”
Romans 15:2 “Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification.”
[King James Version]

As a CCWD victim - rate payor, I appreciate a factual look at the present and a projection to a future drought effect on us. I have lived on the coastside through three or four droughts and it is not pleasant or cheap.

The use of reclaimed water was put into HMB’s LCP/LUP 30 years ago as to replace the golf course use of Pillarcitos Creek water - an alternative supply of potable water for CCWD users. Nothing has happened - unless you just count the number of endless, do nothing ‘studies’. CCWD also sends potable water to Cemeteries - I don’t think their residents would complain about the use of reclaimed water!

Ken Johnson

Every new CCWD customer increases the water cost for all existing CCWD customers.  This is simple arithmetic, which “engineer” Jim Larimer denies.

The following is an email that I posted to the Midcoast-L discussion list on February 18 of this year.

Something that I mentioned at a CCWD board meeting, which was strongly denied by the CCWD directors, is that every new CCWD customer increases costs for every existing CCWD customer.

It’s really simple.  So simple that a PhD can’t understand it.

Looking only at the cost of water, not the system cost, a CCWD customer’s unit cost of water is a weighted average of the cost of a unit of local water and the cost of a unit of imported Hetch Hetchy water.  CCWD has repeatedly stated that Hetch Hetchy water costs more than local water (that’s a no-brainer), so CCWD uses all the available local water first and then supplements it with Hetch Hetchy water. That’s reasonable.

  T = total units of water served by CCWD
  L = units of local water
  H = units of imported (Hetch-Hetchy) water
  T = L + H
  increase T by n while holding L fixed:
  T+n = L + (H + n)

Since L is fixed, every increase in T must be met by a corresponding increase in H.

I don’t have actual numbers, so I’ll just make some up for illustrative purposes.  Given the underlying premises, the only difference between what I’m presenting below and reality is the actual $ amounts.  The concept holds.

Assumptions for illustrative example, since I tried to do this with variables and it got too complicated.  It’s been too long since I was a math major…

  cost of 1 unit of L = $1.
  cost of 1 unit of H = $2.
  units of L served = 500,000
  units of H served = 1,000,000

  Current total water cost = $500,000 + $2,000,000 = $2,500,000.
  Current unit cost = $2,500,000 / 1,500,000 = $1.66/unit.

Now let’s add some customers to the system, holding all other numbers constant:

  units of H served = 2,000,000 in the future.
  Future total water cost = $500,000 + $4,000,000 = $4,500,000.
  Future unit cost = $4,500,000 / 2,500,000 = $1.80/unit.

The difference seems small.  But these are just discussion point numbers; someone should plug in actual values into these equations. Once that’s done, then you can compute the actual dollar increase for an average customer for every new customer added to the system.

Regardless, my fundamental point is valid:  every new house that’s built increases water costs for every existing customer.  And the scenario will be worse than I’ve painted it due to the cost of Hetch-Hetchy water increasing at a much faster rate than local in order to pay for the system rebuild.

It should now be clear what is the basis of Carl’s repeated comment about nature’s “free subsidy”—it’s the difference in price/unit between local and imported water.

I’m sure Paul’s analysis is correct and very useful to the CCWD customers.  And I will readily admit that he knows more about the current state of both MSWD and CCWD than I. I will further grant that he has a right to take umbrage with attacks that have been leveled against him in this forum, though I would think better of everyone concerned if they’d deal with these issues privately.

My only point was that, as a MSWD customer I don’t feel particularly well-served by the current board and would rather see the board putting forth their full efforts at solving Montara’s problems before tackling those of other districts.

The analysis is very useful to Montara Water and Sanitary District (MWSD) customers, too.

One of the misplaced attacks that has been leveled against MWSD is that our Board has not acted as quickly as some would like to build an intertie between the Montara / Moss Beach system and the Coastside County Water District (CCWD) system.

A realistic analysis shows that CCWD is already overcommitted to its own customers. It has no prospect of increasing its “supply assurance” to obtain more water from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. This has been known for years.

There simply is no CCWD water available to serve MWSD’s customers, so investing very limited MWSD capital funds in an intertie to a water-deficient system makes no sense.

Both boards understand the importance of agreements to ameliorate short-term emergencies, such as droughts, where one system is overtaxed and the other can help on a temporary basis.

The current MWSD Board has done everything possible to complete the Alta Vista Well and construct the additional storage that is planned. Coastal Commission approval of our project is the bottleneck, not the MWSD Board.


What has MWSD done to investigate the possibility of an inter-tie to the north with Pacifica?

Is it true that the MWSD Board actually recommended to Caltrans conditioning any water service made available to the tunnel be restricted exclusively for fire suppression and no other services?

Could we make a tie to the north and only use the water when we need it?



Charlie Gardner,

You are good at asking questions and making unsupported claims - you are not very reliable at answering questions and accountability. Just incase you honestly missed it: please see
  Tunnel project yields a lot less water than hoped for . Thank you.

Ken Johnson

Mr. Gardner:

Why an intertie with the NCCWD? You say “and only use the water when we need it.” Do they have extra water they would like to send south? It would be great of you to tell us how NCCWD is avoiding all the problems that go with all the other agencies now staring Hetch Hetchy infrastructure upgrade costs and maxed-out supply from the Tuolumne River in the face? What volume of water is sustainably available that would justify the cost of an intertie, including the pumping operation that would be needed? Goodness knows, we don’t have enough of our local water yet to be sending it the other way to the NCCWD or the CCWD.

In other words, and more generally, why should our district pursue new and expensive infrastructure unless there is strong evidence there could be something real in it for our district? Hasn’t our district repeatedly shown an open mind toward cooperation with other districts as long as there is reason to get involved?

Don’t we elect our directors to run our district in a thoughtful and mature manner for the benefit of us citizens and customers? Do we want them to be dreaming up wild goose chases to pursue, or do we want them to use their considerable experience to deal with real and known district matters?

Water in our district is limited and committed to us existing customers. Now you want us customers to be shorted and possibly endangered by sending district water north to an oversized (what else with Caltrans) tunnels project with its extensive support facilities being built in Green Valley? Or do I misread you? Within the last day or two, you seemed to indicate you believed there would be usable water coming from the tunnels? Which is it, or don’t you know yet? Has Caltrans and its contractors pursued groundwater in Green Valley in case the tunnels are drier than expected? Wouldn’t we in the MWSD, with our moratorium, want new local sustainable sources already developed before committing to sending excess water off to grandiose Caltrans projects? Is the tunnels project really so badly planned that necessary water was not lined up in advance?


Do you have any MWSD agendas, staff reports, minutes, letters, etc. - i.e., some actual documentation - that supports any of the things you are attempting to insinuate by your questions?

It is easy to make up even the most far-fetched “Is it true that ...” question, and almost impossible to disprove without examining every document in the District.

For example, I could make up an extremely suggestive “Is it true that CUSD failed to explore [some absurd idea]?”, and you could not categorically deny the claim.

How about this? If you have actual proof of something that you are suggesting, why don’t you try an honest question like: “According to a staff report dated xx/xx/xx, MWSD requested [something you don’t agree with]. Why?”

That at least gives me something I can look up, see how it might have been quoted out of context, find the previous correspondence or examination of the issue, etc. There usually is a very good explanation when you know the facts and the background, for every decision taken by MWSD.

Incidentally, this topic is about CCWD’s lack of water to serve its own customers, and hence its lack of water to be able to also serve any MWSD customers. It is not a topic for generalized insinuations about MWSD. So please stick to the topic at hand. Thanks.

Yes Paul,

Charlie Gardner has an ‘agenda’ - do to MWSD what he accomplished at CUSD.

He has been on the School Board for Four years - look at what he has accomplished! In our county, only East Palo Alto looks this bad! Look at the “PI Status” column. Not good!

Ken Johnson

Ken Johnson has it right. Why is an elected school board member like Charles Gardner more occupied with things like expanding water supply for housing development, or promoting an environmental abomination like AB 1991, rather than doing the job he was elected to do?

No wonder our local schools are performing so poorly.