Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Here's Our Water, Take It

Posted By on Tue, Aug 10, 2010 at 4:34 PM

For an uneasy time, we consumers of the water purveyed by the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District have dogpaddled around in a massive glut of 60 million gallons a day -- slowly sinking under weightier rates to pay for it, all the while snapping at would-be water-thieves.

You know: We have the rights to more water than we currently have uses for, but we don't want Mr. Plainview to suck it away from us without so much as a how-do or by-your-leave.

A task force -- appointed by the water district and absorbing the advice and ideas from 400 stakeholders -- wrastled with this dilemma all last year, and at long last is ready to throw us four options to grab onto. Says the news release sent by the water district today:

Task force report recommends to HBMWD ‘immediate pursuit' of local water sales; out-of-area sale and transport; district expansion; and in-stream flows for environmental benefit.

Hmm, local water sales, that rings a bell...

The district is already moving on one of the recommendations. [HBWMW General Manager Carol] Rische said there is a "framework" in place with the Freshwater Tissue Co. to use 15 million gallons per day once the mill re-opens.

The task force will present its 130-page report on these and less-immediate options to the HBMWD Board at 3 p.m. tomorrow Thursday, Aug. 12, at the district office, 828 Seventh St. in Eureka.

Read the release:



Date: August 9, 2010 (for immediate release)

From: Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District

Contact: Carol Rische, General Manager; 443-5018 or gm@hbmwd.com

RE: Community report recommends immediate pursuit of local sales, out-of-area transport; district expansion and in-stream flows for environmental benefit

Bill Thorington, president of Humboldt Watershed Council, believes the report to be presented to the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District board Aug. 12 will give legitimacy to future water use decisions. "The report has so much public input," he said. "It wasn't created by a lobbyist or consultant paid to do the work for the board."

Task force report recommends to HBMWD ‘immediate pursuit' of local water sales, out-of-area sale and transport; district expansion; and in-stream flows for environmental benefit

HBMWD board to get results of year-long civic engagement process on Aug. 12

The expansion of district boundaries, sale and transport of water to another municipality, continued pursuit of water intensive businesses here, and releasing water for environmental enhancement are four options recommended for immediate pursuit in a report to be delivered Aug. 12 to the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District Board of Directors.

The 130-page report outlines 10 options developed over the last year by a group of nearly 400 diverse stakeholders and citizens working at the behest of the board and reporting through a 14-person Water Resource Planning Advisory Committee.

The four options targeted for immediate pursuit represent options supported by the public and able to be advanced at this time with little capital expense by the district, the report states.

"Our job was to listen extensively to the public and translate their wishes and ideas into things technically feasible and legally allowable," said Bill Thorington, president of Humboldt Watershed Council and member of the WRPAC. "It was a public process and a public result and it will lend credence to where the district goes from here."

The committee's charge: to identify community values, options and preferences for long term use of a plentiful resource delivered from the Mad River to 80,000 customers in Humboldt County.

At stake: the water rights to 60 million gallons a day of untreated water currently permitted to HBMWD, which is unable to put the resource to beneficial use as required by state law. Water is in demand throughout the state, putting pressure on the board to put the resource to use or risk losing it and the revenue it could generate.

"There is no silver bullet; not any one thing that will fix this problem," Thorington said.

Thorington a fisheries biologist and environmental engineer Sheri Woo are the lead authors of the report on behalf of the Advisory Committee, which is available online at hbmwd.com.

The report contains the pros and cons for each option in addition to background about the district's challenges, the public input process and key factors to be considered.

"The board needs to be acknowledged for their willingness to put this project out there and to put together a group that was so diverse and open-minded,' Thorington said. "I must have heard 50 times a counterpart saying that we may not see eye-to-eye on everything, but we all see the value of what we are doing here."

The board receives the report a 3 p.m. at its monthly meeting on August 12 at the district office at 828 Seventh St. in Eureka.

"Some options could be done sooner than others, but if it all comes to pass, we hope to contain and possibly lower rates in the future by finding additional revenue-paying customers to contribute to our base costs and infrastructure," said Carol Rische, general manager of HBMWD. "The report sets the foundation and the first step is to put it in the board's hands. The directors will need a little time to digest it, weigh the policy considerations and suite of options they want to pursue."

The district is already moving on one of the recommendations. Rische said there is a "framework" in place with the Freshwater Tissue Co. to use 15 million gallons per day once the mill re-opens.

The report identified six options for passive pursuit. Among them: develop a lake in Blue Lake; develop an aquaculture industry for appropriate fish species or with special attention focused on algae and its uses in biomass, fuel and decreasing greenhouse gases; divert water to the Mad River Fish Hatchery; sell untreated water to a private entity; and explore energy production via micro-hydropower within the Mad River channel.

The report defines passive pursuit as options that can begin soon, but require partners, participants, or entrepreneurs in addition to permits, research and funding.

The report acknowledges a tenth option that could solve the problem - selling all of the untreated water to a municipality in Mendocino or Sonoma counties through a pipeline along the railroad right-of-way. The report acknowledges the Advisory Committee's views varied widely on this option and a final recommendation as to whether to pursue was not rendered.

The board has until 2029 - the year the current permit expires - to develop and explore long-term options to maintain local control of the water.

"All the other options will use much smaller increments of water," Thorington said. "Ultimately, if we end up using many of them, we'll be able to protect most of our water."

Division 4 Director Bruce Rupp was one of two directors tasked to the WRPAC.

"The amount of constructive participation and agreement among the divergent stakeholders and interested parties has been very, very impressive throughout," Rupp said. "There are still areas of concern for everyone, but everybody understands the most critical aspect: there are tradeoffs in every decision we make."

Rische said the board is not expected to take action on the report Aug. 12, but that doesn't diminish Thorington's excitement about being on-hand to deliver it.

"I lobbied hard to get appointed to this and felt passionately that we need to get involved," he said.

Thorington said Humboldt Watershed Council was one of several stakeholders to post data on its Web site throughout a "new process of civic engagement."

"Our site attracted hundreds and hundreds of hits," he said. "No telling how many followed the planning process on the Web, but I got a lot of comments from people who couldn't make the meetings but were following it via the Web."

Thorington said "there's no doubt the process of engaging the public helped the Advisory Committee accomplish its task" and predicted future projects would likely be facilitated in ways that break participants into small groups of three to five people.

"People were able to get information and learn, and they appreciated being able to talk one on one in that format," he said.

Eureka's Erika Guevara is one of those. The 31-year-old biologist and new mother to a 10-month-old joined the process in the spring during the final phase of the public meetings.

"I love to talk but I get intimidated in a public venue," she said.

Guevara works for Algorithms, a start-up firm that makes fertilizer from algae. Thorington said her excitement and experience with algae prompted it to become an aquaculture focus in the report.

"Everyone was inquisitive, curious and so supportive," she said. "It was really nice to walk out on the floor and develop creative ways of going about it. It's been a fabulous experience. I don't even know how to put into words what I got out of it."

Thorington has no illusions that the process will eliminate public controversy over whatever the board decides to do.

"Some people will show up and never see anything but the negative," he said. "We have to listen to criticism in case we overlooked something, but every idea in that report came from the public."


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Heidi Walters

Heidi Walters worked as a staff writer at the North Coast Journal from 2005 to 2015.

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