AB 858, by Assemblymember Pat Wiggins (D-Santa Rosa), requires the California Department of Fish and Game to contract with the University of California to study the effects of reduced water flows on existing salmon and steelhead populations in north coast rivers, including the Albion and Gualala.
The University has up to five years to study those effects. The State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) is required to consider the findings before granting water export permits.
It’s the law
On Friday, September, 27, 2002, California Governor Gray Davis signed Assembly Bill 858. The Governor said:
“These two rivers are North Coast jewels that deserve the protection they were granted long ago. It makes no sense to move ahead on any proposal to siphon water from them until we know what the impact will be.”
This is very good news, and may at least delay Alaska Water Exports’ attempts to bag our rivers’ water. Our thanks to Governor Davis for his dedication to protecting these rivers, and to Assemblymember Wiggins for leading the fight with this bill.
Can AB 858 stop the Water Bags?
Unfortunately, AB 858 is unlikely to be the end of the waterbag story.
Ric Davidge, the president of Alaska Water Exports, said in response to the signing of the bill:
“We’re not going away,” Davidge said from his headquarters in Anchorage… “We’re in this for the long haul”…
Davidge called the bill a stall tactic that has no scientific basis. He said the study could be completed in two years and that he would maintain plans to export the water by 2004. …”If you’re honest about it, you can characterize the fishery habitat within 24 months.”
With Saudi and Japanese partners, and James Watts’ Interior Department on his resume, Davidge is not a man to be taken lightly. If he says he’s continuing with his applications for water exports, we can’t afford to let down our guard.
Local opposition continues
Local residents, who are deeply opposed to Davidge’s waterbag scheme, aren’t going away either. We see a number of potential problems:
- The Regents of the University of California have not yet agreed to undertake the studies;
- No funds have been appropriated for the studies;
- The University findings are not binding on the SWRCB; and
- The bill may be challenged in the courts.
In other words, we can not rely on this bill alone to stop the waterbag scheme. Since Ric Davidge is continuing to pursue permits, we need to continue our efforts to prevent his scheme from damaging our rivers and our communities.