Humboldt Can’t Ban Water Exports – September 20, 2011

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Daniel Mintz

Eye Correspondent

HUMBOLDT – Finding that the county has no authority over water exports, the Planning Commission’s draft General Plan Update policies now call for the county to “prevent” river and stream diversions by objecting to them.

The commission finalized its stances on exporting water out of the county at its Sept. 8 Update hearing. Previous debates focused on whether to ban exports, an idea that was called into question by officials from the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District.

A review by legal staff confirmed that the county can’t forbid exports, only comment on them as part of a state or federal permitting process.

And during a public comment session, Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap, the District’s board president, reiterated that there are no negative impacts from her agency’s operations – and there would be none even if Mad River water is sold and sent elsewhere.

The District needs new customers to replace the shuttered pulp mills that once used 60 millions gallons per day of raw water. Avoiding drastic rate hikes is one reason why the export option is being considered, said Sopoci-Belknap.

“We just continue to not see that reflected in the direction you’re going,” she continued.

Commissioners agreed with a policy that calls for the Board of Supervisors not to support export projects that don’t meet the protection requirements of state water code sections.

A related policy calls for the county to “prevent” exports that threaten local environmental and economic conditions. Commissioner Denver Nelson, a river advocate who led the commission’s opposition to exports, acknowledged that the county’s influence is limited but can be exerted through lobbying.

“We can’t prevent water exports but we can certainly raise hell about it,” he said.

Nelson asked that specific water code sections be named as the basis for objections, warning that the county will need legal ammunition against “the people in the black suits who get $500 an hour for stealing water.”

Senior Planner Tom Hofweber agreed to return with the specifics Nelson requested.

The commission finished its work on the Update’s Water Resources Element and began work on its Energy Element. It will continue at the commission’s Sept. 15 meeting.

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