Locals wary of regional planning

The idea of planning for water use on a regional basis sounds good, but what does it really mean? Specifically, what impact will it have on Butte County’s and Northern California’s water resources?

Those were among the questions that arose last week (May 11) when a panel of water experts convened in Chico’s Sierra Nevada Big Room to discuss the subject “Moving to Regionalism in Water: Perspectives on Regional Planning Efforts.” Moving to regionalism, it soon became apparent, will not be easy.

The event was sponsored by the Northern Sacramento Valley Water Forum.

The audience, which filled about a third of the 400-seat room, listened as five experts from organizations involved in regional planning iterated that it’s best “for coherency’s sake” to have the numerous overlapping irrigation and water districts, county agencies, municipalities, and state bureaucracies consort and cooperate rather than act independently.

The keynote speaker, state Sen. Sam Aanestad (R-Grass Valley), stressed the importance of regionalism in protecting Northern California’s water. “Right now, all the votes are in the south; that’s where 75 percent of the people in the state live,” he said. “Regionalizing gives the north more clout.”

Ryan Broddrick, director of the California Department of Fish and Game, had a slightly different take on regionalism. “To protect our natural resource, water, all concerned agencies should consult, find common ground. This way,” he explained, “whatever water planning issues surface, they can best be brought to Sacramento, not brokered by Sacramento.”

Barely mentioned, however, was the Lower Tuscan Aquifer, the source of water for Chico and much of the agriculture in the county. It was utmost on the minds of several citizens, however, including Bob Hannigan, a local almond farmer.

“I just know that the Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District is transferring water down south. I know there are farmers in those counties right now who are pumping Tuscan groundwater, either sending that south or using it on their farms. It’s not right.”

David Guy, the executive director of the Northern California Water Association, seemed surprised by the allegation. “I know of no one willingly taking water from the aquifer and sending it south,” he claimed.

Indeed, a key point he made was that the purpose of regionalism is to keep irrigation districts in various parts of the valley from fighting one another in the first place. “Partnerships are key,” said Guy. “The mentality in Northern California should be to create an entity like the MWD [Metropolitan Water District, a powerful water agency in Southern California]. This way we can work on long-range water planning and address federal and state legislatures in a positive and unified manner.”

It was apparent, though, that many in the crowd viewed regionalism warily. Jim Brobeck, of the Sacramento Valley Environmental Water Caucus, made the after-forum comment, “I believe that when the drought cycle returns, the five at the front of the room want to be in the position to have such a grip on Northern California water that local input, especially on environmental concerns, will mean nothing. It’s just a power grab.”