NoHum’s Water Options Mature – May 22, 2011

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District

HUMBOLDT – Protection of water rights, fiscal sustainability, and environmental sustainability will be the primary goals guiding the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District as it evaluates and pursues a trio of water-use options for the Mad River.

The board has targeted July 14th for its next public hearing in a two-year, award-winning public engagement process to address the district’s 50-year-old infrastructure, shrunken industrial base and underuse of permitted water.  Two public hearings will be held on July 14th – the first at noon and a second at 6 p.m.

After the hearing, the board expects to approve the implementation plan  at their regular meeting on Aug. 11. The plan will increase local water use and maintain control of it for the benefit of the local community; generate revenues to assist with the cost of HBMWD operation, maintenance and capital improvements; and preserve or enhance the Mad River environment.

“Humboldt citizens cared and gave their time generously in the first round of water resources planning, but coming to the July public hearing is important because board members need to hear their views on what tradeoffs the public is willing to make,” said Sheri Woo, who since late 2010 has represented the district’s Division 2, which includes McKinleyville, Fieldbrook and Glendale.

With public discussion of its three goals and top-tier water uses, the board hopes to take another step toward maintaining the legal right to 60 million gallons of untreated water a day from the Mad River.

“Our public process told us loud and clear that the most important thing was local control – people don’t want to see the District lose control of these rights. I think that’s our Board’s top priority as well,” said Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap, President of the Board of Directors.

California authorizes use of 80 million gallons a day to HBMWD through a permit that expires in 2029, but three-quarters of that water went to industrial customers who are no longer in business.

Those customers – the pulp mills — contributed the lion’s share of the operation and maintenance costs for a delivery system that corrals water at Ruth Lake and delivers it 70 miles to seven different agencies and municipalities for the benefit of 80,000 Humboldt County customers.

California has a “use it or lose it” policy, putting pressure on the board to put permitted water to beneficial use or risk losing it, and the much-needed revenue it could generate.

“Ratepayer implications will be exacerbated if additional revenues are not secured to help fund the costly infrastructure projects which are on the horizon,” the district wrote in an April 14 letter to the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors.

“We would appreciate receiving any input you may have on the proposed water-use options the District plans to consider, as well as proposed implementation activities, within the next two-to-three months.”

A draft of the “Implementation Plan to Evaluate and Advance Water Use Options” is available online (hbmwd.com) or by calling HBMWD at (707) 443-5018.

Top-tier options

On July 14, the board will take comment on what it considers its top-tier options to consider, evaluate and pursue:

• Water sales to local commercial, industrial or agricultural interests or any other local water use option, such as aquaculture;

• Water transfer to another public agency outside of the district for a beneficial use as defined by state law and under a contract that protects the district’s underlying water right; and

• Using some portion of the water stored at Ruth Lake to enhance in-stream flows of the Mad River, which is permissible under section 1707 of the California Water Code if a defined environmental benefit exists.

Last fall, the district accepted a 130-page report that outlined 10 water use options identified after 15 months of public meetings.  A 14-person Water Resource Planning Advisory Committee worked with nearly 400 randomly selected citizens, municipal customers and stakeholders from the environmental, fisheries, watershed, economic development, real estate, labor and business communities to identify community values, options and preference for long term use of the Mad River.

“The board digested that report, explored it, weighed policy considerations and came up with a suite of options it wants to pursue,” said Carol Rische, general manager of HBMWD. “This summer is the opportunity for everyone – newcomers and past participants – to share their impressions and concerns of the plan the board has crafted to protect what many think is our county’s greatest resource.”

The expansion of district boundaries, sale and transport of water to another municipality, and continued pursuit of water intensive businesses, and enhancing in-stream flows were four options targeted by the community report for immediate pursuit by the board.

“Expanding district boundaries isn’t being actively pursued because outlying cities – Trinidad or Rio Dell, for example – would need to fund pipeline extensions, which are very costly,” Woo said. “That could change if funding became available.”

The report also identified five options for passive pursuit. Among them: develop a lake in Blue Lake; develop an aquaculture industry with specific 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 defined passive pursuit as options that could begin soon, but required partners, participants or entrepreneurs in addition to permits, research and funding.

Options targeted for immediate pursuit presented few roadblocks and required little capital expense, the report stated.

A 10th option – selling all of the untreated water to the Sonoma County water agency through a billion-dollar pipeline along the railroad right of way – was too complicated and costly to be highly supported by the board or community, Humboldt Watershed Council President Bill Thorington said.

“We listened extensively to the public and translated their wishes and ideas into things technically feasible and legally allowable,” he said.

Thorington and Woo, an environmental engineer, were WRPAC committee members and co-authors of the final report.

“The in-stream flow option has had wide and passionate support, judging from public input during the planning process,” Woo said. “But the option has to be balanced by the public’s support for keeping water rates as low as possible.”

The community report submitted last fall, “Advisory Committee Recommendations for Water Use Options Supported by a Community-based Planning Process,” is also available at  hbmwd.com or by calling HBMWD at (707) 443-5018.

 

 

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