Locals get feisty on regional plan
Offhand, a proposal to manage water regionally, rather than county by county, would seem to be a no-brainer. Water, Northern California’s most precious commodity, is naturally organized in regional watershed areas.
If a meeting held Oct. 3 in Durham is any indication, however, many local people are deeply suspicious of the regionalism concept—and they aren’t timid about saying so, as representatives of the Northern California Water Association, which is promoting the plan, discovered to their discomfort.
So many orchardists, groundwater users and environmentalists showed up at the Durham library that they couldn’t fit into the meeting room and spilled over into the stacks. Some carried picket signs, and many had an earful to give the NCWA reps.
David Guy, the executive director of NCWA, apologized early on for the standing-room-only confines, but his conciliatory gesture didn’t go far. Not even a third of the way into his 41-slide PowerPoint presentation, Guy was being consistently interrupted, asked questions and yelled at.
“Why wasn’t the city of Chico part of the planning process?” shouted an audience member early on.
“The Chico City Council has been invited but they have not been a direct participant in the planning process,” Guy responded. “We would certainly welcome the city’s input.”
This explanation only invited more shouts: “Which council members?” “Do you have the letters of invite?” and so on.
Questions concerning two main issues kept Guy on the defensive for the rest of the meeting. One involved transparency, or who would be in charge of the nine-county water management region and accountable for its actions. The other concerned its newly issued Sacramento Valley Integrated Regional Water Management Plan and its perceived lack of scientific information about the Lower Tuscan aquifer, the recharge zones for it and, indeed, the whole of the Sacramento River watershed area.
When one farmer asked, “Why all the rush? Seems like a ramrod to me,” Guy did not answer the question but rather skirted around it.
In fact, the main reason for the hurry is money: some $25 million worth of grants. That’s how much the state of California is providing to regional districts charged with helping the state create a more secure and consistent water infrastructure. NCWA is applying for a portion of that grant, and the deadline is in December.
Guy said the idea was to give Northern California a stronger voice in state water issues. Historically, the spoils in California’s water wars have gone to large cities at the expense of farmers, fishermen and the environment, as in the cases of Hetch-Hetchy Reservoir and LA’s grab of Owens Valley water.
Today, the majority of the state’s population lives south of Bakersfield. That represents tremendous political clout in the state Legislature. “By regionalizing,” said Guy, “we have a better chance to protect our surface and groundwater, as well as our bird and fish habitat that rely upon this water.”
But local water users worry that an unquenchable state is just trying to get control of Northern California’s water, especially its groundwater. They’re concerned about Southern California’s pull, and they’re even wary of some of the counties in NCWA.
In a separate interview, a Butte County Resource Conservation District director who asked to remain anonymous explained: “Already this county has hooked up with Glenn, Colusa and Tehama counties on how to best go forward in regard to the Lower Tuscan Aquifer, and it’s a pretty good contingency plan. But now the NCWA deal adds five other counties, four of them south of here and all of them with very recent increased urbanization. This makes me nervous.
“It was manageable when it was just us: Glenn/Colusa, Butte and Tehama. I want to see this go forward only if Butte County has some form of direct control over its own water resources. I don’t want to see our wells go dry because Sac or Yolo County is sucking the aquifer.”
At the meeting, some voiced concern about the scientific underpinnings of the regional management proposal and its estimates of water availability. One was Jim Brobeck, director of the Sacramento Valley Environmental Caucus. “The DWR [Department of Water Resources] and NCWA are basing their science on studies taken in the 1920s. Hey, what about global warming? The lack of a snow pack in the Sierra? What about drought years? None of this is addressed in the NCWA proposal.”
Perhaps such questions will be answered when the Butte County Board of Supervisors holds a special meeting to consider the NCWA plan Tuesday (Oct. 17) at 1:30 p.m. in supervisors’ chambers. If the county doesn’t sign on, chances are the NCWA grant proposal will sink.
To comment on the plan, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or snail mail to NCWA, 455 Capital Mall, Suite 335, Sacramento, CA 95814-4496.