The Water Export Scheme
Alaska Water Exports (AWE), a division of Arctic Ice and Water Exports, Inc., and backed by Japanese, Norwegian, and Saudi interests, has applied for rights to water to be collected from the Gualala and Albion Rivers. The applications are State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) Applications 31194 and 31195, respectively.
If granted, AWE would be allowed to collect 8,700 acre-feet annually from the Gualala and 6,200 acre-feet from the Albion. The water would be pumped from the collectors, located above the salt-water intrusion line, through a 2-3 mile long pipeline to mooring stations offshore. The collection rates will be up to 30 cubic feet/second. At the mooring stations, the water would be pumped into bags 262 meters long and 82 meters wide, containing about 40 acre-feet of water. The filled bags would be towed to customers in “San Diego”.
There are many reasons why this is a bad scheme. Here are a few of them:
- If granted, the applications would set a precedent.
We expect there will be repeated attempts by entrepreneurs from outside California to profit from California’s water needs. The scheme would avoid all of the mechanisms for water transfers in California established by the State and Federal governments.
Since AWE is affiliated with Saudi, Japanese, and Norwegian interests, the citizens of California may lose control of their water resources to interests with no stake in California or even the United States. Depending on final ownership of the rights, the project may avoid California law in favor of NAFTA or WTO regulations.
- Economic reasons
The north coast of California depends on tourists who come because of our natural resources and the exquisite beauty of our coast and rivers. Any degradation of the environment translates into fewer tourists and fewer jobs.
- Environmental reasons
These rivers once were internationally famous for their Coho salmon and steelhead trout. State-funded and private volunteer projects have begun to restore the habitats for these fish.
The scheme would do significant damage to the estuary habitat during the construction and maintenance of the intakes, pumps, and pipelines. Diversion of the water from the estuaries would disrupt the precarious habitat balance for Coho, steelhead, and many other species.
The mooring stations lie across the migration paths for California grey whales and other marine mammals. The continuing tug-and-bag operations pose a threat to this wildlife.
The scheme is problematic because:
- Construction will introduce more sediment into the rivers and further degrade the habitat for salmonids.
- The scheme may affect water quality in The Sea Ranch and Gualala.
- The Gualala Point County Regional Park would be harmed, especially if the pipeline crosses the Park and the water bags are moored 200 meters offshore, blocking the view from the bluff trail.
- The area will be significantly less attractive to the tourists who are the mainstays of the area’s economy.
- The mooring stations would be in the migration paths of the California Gray Whale.
- The water bags that would be used have yet to be built, tested, and shown to be seaworthy.
- A preliminary economic analysis has shown that the scheme is not financially viable without heavy subsidization.
- There are better, more economical and more environmentally sound ways to meet San Diego’s water needs.
AWE has revised its initial applications to show that the water will be used in San Diego, although no specific users are designated.
The Gualala River
The Gualala River drains a watershed of about 300 square miles. The watershed is mostly in Sonoma County, but extends into Mendocino County.
As it flows into the Pacific Ocean, the river forms the boundary between Mendocino and Sonoma Counties. To the south of the river’s mouth lie Gualala Point Regional County Park and The Sea Ranch. To the north lies the town of Gualala.
The flow into the estuary at the river’s mouth is highly variable, ranging from a few cubic feet/second in the summer to a few hundred cubic feet/second during and immediately after winter storms. In summer, the estuary is closed by a sand bar and drains into the ocean via alluvial flow.
The Gualala River once was an internationally known fishing river for Coho salmon and steelhead. A century of logging operations has degraded the habitat to the point Coho are nearly extinct. Local volunteers and State and Federal agencies have been working to restore the river. For example, river banks that had been cleared of trees are being replanted to provide shade. The goal is to reduce the water temperatures so that salmonids can survive.
There is now significant logging activity in the watershed that appears to result in sedimentation and a rise in water temperature. There is a growing pressure for conversion of forests to vineyards. Vineyard conversion is the equivalent of clear cutting, but without the intent to regrow the forest habitat. Contemporary forest and vineyard management use herbicides and pesticides; there is a resultant concern for the effects on habitat and on the quality of drinking water in Gualala and The Sea Ranch.
The scheme to export water from the river to San Diego poses a different set of threats to the river.
1. Join Friends of the Gualala River (FoGR).
The review process will be a lengthy one. FoGR will monitor the process; provide education and status reports via meetings, events, its website, and other communications; develop advocacy materials; and advocate on behalf of the River before State and Federal agencies and with the public. FoGR needs all the help you can give. To join, fill out an application or see the FoGR website, www.gualalariver.org.
2. Ask to be put on the SWRCB’s list of Interested Parties.
Write the State Water Resources Board (SWRCB) and ask to be placed on the list of parties interested in Applications 31194 and 31195. When you receive the Board’s notice, send your comments to them using the format provided in the package they will send you. Note that if you want a copy of the applications themselves, you must make a separate request to the SWRCB. Mail your requests to:
State Water Resources Control Board
Division of Water Rights
P.O. Box 2000
Sacramento, CA 95812-2000
or send your request to the SWRCB project engineer, Kathryn Gaffney, at email@example.com.
3. Write Federal and State Agencies involved in the Review Process.
Tell the agencies of your interest in their doing a careful, thorough review of the environmental impact and the financial viability of the scheme. Two important agencies are:
Army Corps of Engineers
– San Francisco District
Donna Shepard, Public Affairs
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
– North Coast Office
Bruce Halstead, Field Supervisor
1655 Heindon Road
Arcata, CA 95521-5582
4. Tell your Elected Officials of your concern that the ecology of the Gualala River be respected, maintained, and enhanced.
Sonoma County Board of Supervisors
2300 County Center Drive
Santa Rosa, CA 95403
Mendocino County Board of Supervisors
501 Low Gap Road. Room 1009
Ukiah, CA 95482
Senator Wes Chesbro
50 D Street – 120
Santa Rosa, CA 95404
Assemblymember Virginia Strom-Martin
50 D Street – 450
Santa Rosa, CA 95404
Assemblymember Pat Wiggins
50 D Street – 301
Santa Rosa, CA 95404
Send your tax-deductible donations to:
Friends of the Gualala River
P.O. Box 1543
Gualala, CA 95445