• Dam plan approved; get ready to pay

    By Marge Ann Jameson

    The end of a process which began in 2010 was completed today with the approval by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) of California American Water’s plans to permanently remove the aging and defunct San Clemente Dam from the Carmel River. But there’s a price tag.

    The estimated cost of the project is $83 million of which $49 million will be recovered from ratepayers . Thirty-four million will come from the State Coastal Conservancy.

    It is estimated that residential customers’ bills will increase about $2.54 or 5.61 percent over the current rates approved on June 7, 2012. New rates will take effect July 1, 2012 and will remain in place for the next 20 years. What is not clear is whether the average $2.54 per customer per month will be treated as a base for future increases or whether it is static surcharge. Clarification is also pending on issues of questionable testimony offered the CPUC by the utility, noted in the administrative law judges’ pending decisions.

    It could have been a lot worse. Initially, a proposed plan (Nov 2011) called for $75 million to be paid by customers over 20 years, plus the $34 million in state and federal grants through the Coastal Conservancy, with the balance to be paid by Cal-Am. In April, 2012 and after heavy lobbying by Cal-Am, the plan changed to one calling for $154 million to be paid by ratepayers – a plan which called for customers to pay all of Cal Am’s share and add profit for their investors. Ratepayer advocates presented protests to the CPUC and suggested a compromise whereby ratepayers would pay $49 million of the costs, an amount they deemed transparent plus a “memorandum account” of $15.4 million. Ratepayer advocates alleged that Cal Am should not be allowed to profit from the dam removal and that shareholders could bear some of the burden. As a result of the protest, a delay of the decision was won from May 24 to June 21.

    The San Clemente Dam was built in 1921 and functioned well for a number of years, but today the reservoir is more than 90 percent filled with sediment. It has failed state seismic safety requirements. The plan calls for leaving the sediment in place and locating it between two new earthen structures. The river will be rerouted in order to bypass the sediment, and finally the dam itself, a 106-foot concrete arch, will be removed. Some 25 miles of spawning and rearing habitat for steelhead trout will be restored. It is also estimated that sand supply to the mouth of the river at the ocean will also be replenished when the sediment moves past the dam.

    It will be the largest dam removal in American history

    The 928-acre property where the sediment rests will be donated to the Bureau of Land Management, which governs two adjacent regional parks. The total area will be 5,400 acres of open space.

    Groundbreaking on the project will take place later this year. Completion of the project is expected in 2015.


    posted to Cedar Street Times on June 21, 2012

    Topics: Front PG News, Breaking News


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