Hole in the bucket

It looked like the Butte County Water Commission might get a sharper look at an ambitious but wildly unpopular plan to create a new irrigation district at its meeting Tuesday, but what the commission got was something else entirely.

Ed Craddock, head of the county’s Department of Water and Resource Conservation, had asked the commission to place an informational item on its agenda so it could explore the idea of the Dry Creek Irrigation District, a proposal put out by Gridley businessman Arthur Hayden that would create a new lake beside Highway 99 with water drained out of Lake Oroville.

Hayden’s plan, which has been roundly rejected by most of the property owners in the area, involves putting a hole in Lime Saddle Mountain and siphoning thousands of acre-feet of water from behind Oroville Dam. According to a petition drawn up by Hayden, the construction of such a project would be financed by Mello-Roos bonds, which would be paid off with proceeds from future water sales.

The plan worried local property owners and environmentalists because of its size and potential environmental impact. Others dismissed the idea as a get-rich-quick scheme. But it also worried Craddock because he felt Hayden might be spreading the idea that the county was backing his effort. In fact, said Craddock, the only official encouragement given to Hayden’s project was a letter from the Board of Supervisors asking that a feasibility study be submitted before the plan could be addressed.

“There is some misrepresentation here that bothers me,” Craddock said. “We haven’t been given enough information on this project to know if it’s good, bad or ugly.”

Hayden, who is something of a maverick when it comes to water issues, had originally told Craddock he would not attend the meeting. When he did show up to defend his plan, Hayden told the commission he “would be crazy to spend a million dollars on a feasibility study for something nobody wants right now. Let’s not put the cart before the horse.”

A landowner in the area where Hayden’s project would be built took the podium to inform the commission that he had 150 signatures of local residents opposing The Dry Creek plan. He also claimed that Hayden had implied that he had county support when he explained the plan to area residents.

When asked by the commission where Hayden would obtain the rights to the water he is seeking to siphon from Lake Oroville, Hayden told him he would be able to provide a list of property owners in the Feather River drainage basin who hold pre-1914 rights to the water. But he was unwilling to do so until he gained approval of the project from area landowners, a prospect he admitted was unlikely.

“Until they [the property owners] give me their say-so, it’s a dead issue,” Hayden said.

In other water news, reports on the county’s highly anticipated Integrated Water Resource Plan (see this week’s cover story) and AB3030 compliance plan are soon to be released by the DWRC. Check www.buttecounty.net/waterandresource/ for more information.

It was also disclosed at the meeting that commissioners Michael Pierce and Michael McEnespy are both ill with cancer, which has made it difficult for the commission to reach quorum lately.