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FoGR: Ric Davidge’s fantasy

This perspective was published in the
Independent Coast Observer
on October 4, 2002.

Ric Davidge’s fantasy by Jim Jordan, The Sea Ranch

Governor Davis has signed AB 858 Wiggins requiring that a University of California study of coho salmon and steelhead trout in the Gualala and Albion Rivers be completed before the State Water Resources Control Board can grant Ric Davidge rights to export the rivers’ waters.

AB 858 will force the State to take a thoughtful approach to attempts by private entrepreneurs to profit from the State’s water needs. Redwood Coast residents are grateful to Pat Wiggins for her leadership for AB 858 in the Legislature and to Gray Davis for his continued commitment to our coastal environment.

Typically, Davidge reacted to AB 858 with an implacable determination to take the water and with outrageous claims for his scheme.

First, Davidge claims exporting the Redwood Coast’s water is the most economical way to meet San Diego’s water needs. Nonsense!

Davidge’s applications are too vague, too shoddy, too filled with inaccuracies, and too inconsistent to permit an accurate economic analysis.

The design, construction, and maintenance of the collection cistern in the Gualala River and the pumps and pipes to get the water to the offshore mooring station cannot be greatly different from well-known practices. These works will have to withstand natural variations in the stream bed and the occasional earthquake along the adjacent San Andreas Fault. Because of the river’s heavy load of fine sediment, the filters will require frequent maintenance.

The water bag technology is as yet untested. One of Davidge’s firms, Arctic Ice and Water, Inc. will be testing Albany International’s new water bags this winter, according to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which is subsidizing the sea trials because of their high risk. The few details Davidge has released, simple physics, and the costs of known tug operations permit reasonable estimates on the transportation costs.

The bottom line is that low cost estimates for the Davidge scheme show that it must charge San Diego about $2,000/acre-foot to make a profit. That is more than four times what San Diego is willing to pay now, and about two and a half times the cost of water from the several large desalination plants under active consideration by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

To illustrate the economic absurdity of the Davidge scheme, the fuel cost in transporting an acre-foot of Gualala River water to San Diego would be about the price MWD is paying for an acre-foot of delivered raw water.

Davidge is not accounting for the economic harm that its industrial works will have on the Redwood Coast’s tourist industry.

Second, Davidge claims his scheme is the most environmentally sound way for San Diego to gain the water it needs. That, too, is nonsense!

For the sake of enough water to keep 500 acres of San Diego’s grass green, Davidge wants to do irreparable harm to the estuaries of Northern California’s rivers. He ignores the endangered coho salmon, the threatened steelhead and the myriad of other species dependent on the estuaries. He ignores reality.

Reality is that no one really knows the dynamics of estuarine habitats – certainly not Davidge or his consultants who made a cursory site visit, surfed the web, and threw a bunch of undigested factoids (or fictionoids) into their report. The two-year study of the Gualala River being conducted now will just provide a baseline. The river is dynamic and many years of seasonal variations will have to take place before the estuary can be characterized.

Davidge has no regard for the aesthetic impact of the installation and maintenance of a collection cistern with an estimated 40-foot diameter and a mile-and-a-half pipeline across Sonoma County’s Gualala Point Park, or the impacts of the belching diesel tugs and monstrous bags immediately offshore.

Davidge exhibits no recognition of the detrimental effects of tug and bag operations on marine mammals or seabirds. The bags will be moored off the aptly named Whale Watch Point, astride the California Gray Whales’ migration path and a common feeding area for resident Harbor Seals.

Davidge can provide no risk assessment of the scheme. He does not even know the basic vocabulary of established risk assessment practices. Davidge provides no measure of the risks such as a tug running aground on the rocks off Whale Watch Point and spilling diesel fuel into the ocean, or an 875-foot x 275-foot water bag breaking loose and draping itself on marine preserves anywhere from Albion to Point Loma.

Davidge has whined for some time that the people of the Redwood Coast should not reject the water export scheme before he reveals its science. The people of the Redwood Coast have given him many opportunities, beginning last March, to present this “science.” All that exists are the two consultants’ reports submitted to the SWRCB with Davidge’s application. The reports were so poorly done that Davidge has repudiated several of their assumptions. One cannot find in them a real project design, just a hand waving exercise which no experienced project manager would accept.

Davidge’s scheme is a fantasy. Unfortunately, he is fanatical about his fantasy. He is undaunted in his determination to ruin two rivers and the Redwood Coast economy and will do so if the SWRCB allows it.

Californians must continue to fight long and hard to make sure he does not have the chance. They can start by filing Protests of Davidge’s applications before the SWRCB’s November 11 deadline.

See www.gualalariver.org for details.

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