Charges reveal why Monterey desalination project halted

The full extent of the allegations of conflict of interest involving Stephen P Collins, the former director of the Monterey County Water Resources Agency (MCWRA) in his dealings with the Regional Desalination Project has now been revealed.

Collins appeared in court on 16 November 2011 charged with 33 felony counts and 6 misdemeanors on suspicion of profiting off water contracts he handed out while serving as the water board's director. The case was adjourned until 30 November and Collins did not enter a plea.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) authorized plans on 2 December 2010 to develop the 10 MGD (37,850 m³/d) Regional Desalination Project, which would have been built on the California central coast north of Monterey. A central allegation is that Collins was paid US$ 160,000 by RMC Water & Environment for his work on the US$ 400 million desalination project throughout last year while he served on the county water board.

When the allegations came to light, MCWRA declared that the project's water-purchase agreement signed on 6 April 2010, together with associated agreements, were void. This in turn led to partner California American Water (CalAm) invoking a disputes procedure and seeking other alternatives to the project, including three involving desalination projects.

Discussions between CalAm, MCWRA and other parties are ongoing. Cal Am has been ordered to find an alternative source to the Carmel River aquifer for about 10,000 acre-feet (12.3 million m³) of water per year.

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