Coastal Commission approves MWSD public works plan

Press release

By on Fri, November 14, 2008

The Montara / Moss Beach community is one big step closer to solutions for its long-standing water problems following Coastal Commission approval Wednesday of the Public Works Plan, Phase I, proposed by Montara Water and Sanitary District in January 2006. The approved plan includes the new Alta Vista Well, bringing 150 gallons per minute of safe and reliable water to meet community needs; an additional 1,100,000 gallons of water storage for emergencies; and additional treatment for water drawn from wells at the Half Moon Bay Airport.

The Alta Vista Well was commissioned in October 2007 and has been supplying high-quality water to Montara and Moss Beach customers during an environmental testing period required by the Coastal Commission. Based on those studies, which showed no adverse affects on nearby wetlands and riparian areas, the District may use this new well to provide reliable supplies that meet the needs of existing customers in the District.

According to the Coastal Commission staff report, "The objective of the District’s Public Works Plan Phase I is to improve specific portions of the District’s water system to ensure an adequate and reliable water supply for existing domestic and fire protection uses. The proposed improvements are not intended to, nor would they accommodate, expanded existing connections or new connections to the system. In addition, according to the District, the improvements would not enable it to ease or lift the existing moratorium on new water service connections in Montara."

MWSD has made extensive improvements to the local water system since acquiring it for the community’s benefit in August 2003 from California American Water Company. Citizens Utilities Company of California, which had failed to meet mandated water supply goals for over two decades, transferred ownership to Cal-Am shortly before the MWSD acquisition was completed.

In the five years of public ownership, MWSD has improved the yield of existing wells, added new water treatment, reduced water loss through leaking mains, installed solar panels for power production, improved operating efficiency, and explored for new water supply sources. During the past two summers, there have been no water use restrictions - a big change from the annual notices customers of CUCC had grown accustomed to receiving.

The Montara / Moss Beach community overwhelmingly approved a bond measure in 2001 to fund essential improvements to bring the former CUCC water system up to modern standards. "Commission approval of our Public Works Plan allows the District to complete the projects that were promised to the community to meet their existing water needs reliably at fair costs," said MWSD Board President Paul Perkovic. "The District has achieved in five years what Citizens Utilities could not achieve in 25 years. For the first time, Montara and Moss Beach can feel safe going into a statewide drought."

Comment 1
Fri, November 14, 2008 2:51pm
Sean Handel
All my comments

Does this approval also include build-out of the new replacement tank at the Schoolhouse location in Moss Beach? If so, any idea when that could happen?

Comment 2
Sat, November 15, 2008 8:22pm
Ken King
All my comments

You mean that a public utility run for the people by the people is more efficient than a free market run, no, make that for profit run, water service? Imagine that! Seems like another slap in the face of free market ideology, by creeping socialism. Let’s hope that the country at large wakes up to the con that constitutes our public health system and takes similar pro-consumer measures in the upcoming years.

The Public Works Plan includes three major components: (1) additional water supply; (2) additional water storage; and (3) additional treatment to improve water quality.

Under additional water storage, there are two sites proposed for new storage tanks. The Alta Vista site would put 1,000,000 gallons of potable water near the highest point in the distribution system, to provide water supply and emergency reserves anywhere needed.

The Schoolhouse site would add 100,000 gallons of treated water storage in north Moss Beach, at a much lower eleveation, designed to serve the Airport pressure zone (most of lower Moss Beach). The plan is flexible enough to allow either two new 100,000 gallon tanks (replacing the existing concrete tank), or one new 100,000 gallon tank with refurbishment of the existing tank. Two tanks will allow operational flexibility and provide increased storage at lower elevations.

Both storage projects can proceed in parallel (e.g., design, detailed engineering, bidding, construction). Unless there are unanticipated delays, the timeline should be approximately one year.


Can you explain why one of the conditions of approval was that it would not allow lifting of the moratorium for connections?

What is the timeline for that?

Can you comment specifically on when families (like the Skowrons) that have failed wells will be allowed access to water?

Only then can we say this utility is run “for the people”.

Comment 5
Thu, November 20, 2008 1:37pm
Carl May
All my comments

Mr. Gardner,

Did you bother to read the information sent to ratepayers about these system improvements? Your answer is in there. And, since the info was widely disseminated, I can only assume your message above is merely to harrass Mr. Perkovic on what local developers are trying to magnify into hot-button issues. I’m surprised you failed to mention Moss Beach Park among your trite and previously answered challenges. Oversight?

Ken, you are comparing tangerines with rotten apples.  A private industry company in a government-enforced monopoly position cannot be compared to a government agency.  CUCC/Cal-Am was never a free market scenario.  Regulation of such companies is a farce.  A free market would require competition.  Do you think that Comcast’s rates would be as high and their service as bad if there was another cable company to turn to for service if you’re unhappy with Comcast?  Do you think that we would have 8 hour electric outages every time the wind blows when the ground is wet if PG&E had competition for local service?  Of course government can always do it better than a private company which is shielded by the government from competition and only lip service is paid to regulation.  This is not to say that government can always do things better.  Do I have to say CalTrans vs C.C. Myer?  Government can only do things better when comparing to a private company that has no competition.

I believe in competition.  If competition is not going to be allowed, say for sewer/water/gas/electric/cable, then the only reasonable scenario is a government agency.  I still want to hear a good reason why there’s no competition allowed for electric, local phone, cable.  A few decades ago when policy was changed to allow competition in long-distance phone calling, prices dropped like a rock.

Interesting that satellite TV, with higher infrastructure costs but with competition, has better service and I think lower rates than the “regulated” Comcast monopoly.

Fresh off his recent school board election victory, CUSD trustee Gardner resumes his meddling in areas that have nothing to do with improving our local schools.

The voters have spoken I suppose. Maybe the all-knowing majority voters would also like to see our elected water board officials start meddling in school issues.

Comment 8
Sat, November 22, 2008 7:43am
Ken King
All my comments

Leonard, if you understand irony, my comment nets out to your position, albeit redundantly stated.

Comment 9
Tue, November 25, 2008 10:36am
Paul Perkovic
All my comments


The Public Works Plan, Phase I (“PWP”), includes the projects needed to complete the plan outlined for voters prior to their 81% approval of Measure V, i.e., acquisition and improvement of the former Citizens Utilities (“CUCC”) water system to meet the needs of the current residents in the Montara / Moss Beach community and to provide improved fire protection for everyone, while preventing the enormous water rate increases proposed by CUCC.

It was never proposed that current developed properties would pay the costs to produce new water supplies for new development. Montara Water and Sanitary District (“MWSD”) is carrying out the mandate given us by the voters.

The new Alta Vista Well, along with other water source improvements, is anticipated to provide a safe and reliable water supply to meet existing community needs. MWSD has developed more new water supply capacity over the past 5 years than CUCC developed in the previous 25 years, despite orders from the California Public Utilities Commission to do so. However, the District has not yet had enough experience with the yield of the new Alta Vista Well under water shortage conditions (e.g., severe drought), so we are taking a conservative approach to ensure that the water supply is not overloaded again.

Citizens Utilities faced a major crisis during the 1976-1977 drought period, when demand exceeded supply and fire protection supplies were exhausted. Emergency water has been trucked in to augment the CUCC system water supplies on several occasions. Coastside County Water District (“CCWD”) has helped CUCC in some prior crises, but CCWD itself is facing the possibility of major shortages if the statewide drought situation continues, so we cannot depend on emergency water supplies from our neighbors. CCWD used 97% of its available water in 2007 and may face delivery cutbacks from the San Francisco water system, which provides 80% of their total supply, unless rainfall returns to average levels.

Your MWSD Board wants to make certain that the community never again faces another water crisis like those from the droughts in the late 1970s and 1980s. I would expect that you agree this is responsible water management. You and your neighbors have now enjoyed two consecutive years with no water use restrictions, unlike the routine notices every summer issued by CUCC. Water conservation measures are important, of course, in addition to prudent planning within the constraints of reliable supplies.

The Local Coastal Program (LCP) requires that water supplies be set aside for priority uses (such as floriculture or the Moss Beach affordable housing project) prior to making any capacity available for new non-priority development. MWSD requested an LCP amendment to put properties with failed wells in the priority category, but the Coastal Commission has not yet approved that amendment. Fortunately, there are no failed wells within the MWSD area, whereas CCWD has been forced to issue several priority connections when San Mateo County certified several wells within their service area as failed.

The County still has not released the groundwater study that is now about four years overdue. That seems to be one reason that the Midcoast LCP Update amendments have now been postponed at least until the March 2009 Coastal Commission meeting.

The District is exploring possible sources of new water to serve additional development, and how any such project might be financed by the undeveloped properties that would benefit from new water sources. A possible assessment district approach would be similar to how CCWD financed the Crystal Springs Water Supply Project in 1987, or how Half Moon Bay and Granada Sanitary District financed the Sewer Authority Mid-Coastside Wastewater Treatment Plant expansion completed in 1999.

The general principle that new development should pay all the costs necessary to serve that new development is fairly well established in California. I doubt that you would want to pay higher water rates to finance additional capacity for new development, rather than expecting those new customers to pay their own way.

I hope this helps answer your questions. These are my individual opinions, because the Board has not yet approved a specific future water supply project or financing mechanism.

Paul Perkovic, MWSD President