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ICO Article: Water mogul Davidge makes local pitch

This article was published in the
Independent Coast Observer
on March 22, 2002.

Water mogul Davidge makes local pitch
By Julie Verran

Courtesy Independent Coast Observer, Gualala, CA

Ric Davidge addressed a crowd of more than 300 people at Del Mar Center, Sea Ranch, on March 16 about his water export plan but appeared to win few minds and hearts.

The other speaker at the Sea Ranch Forum was Ed Anton, chief of the Division of Water Rights.

Anton said an application has been filed for water from the Gualala River and the Albion River, 170 cubic feet per second on the Gualala, not necessarily the amount DWR would grant.

“We’ve asked the applicant for maps showing where the water will be diverted, and the place of use,” Anton said. The applicant must say which stream and where, whether the water is for municipal use; must define the place of use and rate of diversion.

“All of those parts tend to constrain the water use,” Anton said. Sea Ranch has had to put a reservoir in, because it takes its water from the South Fork Gualala. “We have had to put a lot of pressure on Sea Ranch to come into compliance with the terms of their permit,” he said.

They have not yet publicly noticed this project. When it is noticed there will be an opportunity to protest based on a prior right to water, or on public trust values such as fish and wildlife, and recreation, Anton said.

Compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act is part of getting a water right. The Gualala and the Albion contain endangered species.

“This is a fair amount of water to come out of these streams,” said Anton, adding that any time a project stirs a lot of controversy, CEQA requires an Environmental Impact Report.

Other laws affect water. Beneficial use is intended, unreasonable uses are not, public welfare must be considered. The highest use of water is municipal and second, irrigation; sometimes public trust resources may be higher.

The Gualala and Albion are protected rivers under law, but the way Anton reads it, that is to protect the water for use of the local area against export areas. Water rights law is very complex, he added.

California has a unique method of defining water rights which includes pre-1914 rights and riparian users over whom DWR has little control, as well as groundwater from a known and defined channel or a sub stream, where users don’t need a permit to take water.

“There will be a hearing here soon on that issue as it relates to the North Gualala River,” Anton concluded.

Davidge of Alaska Water Exports, CEO of World Water SA, has been active in water resource policy for 25 years or more.

He showed a computerized visual presentation first with video clips of Alaska streams, Turkish tugs and American textile workers, but he could not find his Gualala visuals, though he searched his computer, flashing glimpses of his life on the screen.

WWSA was formed legally in 1999 following a water conference in Tokyo, with four partners and several associated companies, Davidge said. NYK line, “the largest shipping company in the world”, is represented by its subsidiary New Frontiers. ALJ Group subsidiary Mizutech looks at a 50 year horizon for its projects.

Davidge wrote a paper on Alaska export potential, and was approached from Santa Barbara about water supply. Alaska passed a statute regulating water export, granting fish and wildlife appropriative rights, among other things. He also works with bottled water companies.

Mizutech for two years has used the water bag technology to make a 120-mile round trip from Turkey to the Turkish part of Cyprus. The method of bag handling draws on fishing technology. The video clips showed a variety of colors in bags, to distinguish between differing bag fabrications they are testing.

Turkey is aggressive in offering its water for export, Davidge said, and may someday export water to Israel. The bags fill rapidly; new bags will have two fill points. The seas off Turkey are extremely calm most of the time, he said. WWSA is working to develop a special tug design, lower and safer.

Albany International, the polyfiber firm that developed Kevlar® and plastic films for specialized uses in medicine and space travel, “has pushed bag technology three generations beyond where we were two years ago,” Davidge said. The Jones Act requiring U.S.-built vessels applies, and bags will be made in California or elsewhere in the U.S.A.

Michael Baker, the Anchorage engineering firm he is using, now has an office in San Diego, and is working on water strategy. Davidge has ongoing projects in Albania, Greece and North Africa; a Russian one is on hold. WWSA has a bulk water permit in Canada that was grandfathered in, owned by an Indian community there, Davidge said.

He was supposed to be in Albania instead of speaking here, he said, but finds it nicer here.

“It is amazing to me to stand in front of an audience with gray hair,” said white-bearded Davidge, adding that in Alaska he is regarded as an old man. He served with Ed Anton on the Western states Water Council, he said, and he has learned in India and the Middle East that water is a very emotional resource, with religious significance.

“Politicians haven’t done a very good job in solving water problems,” said Davidge who feels such decisions should be science based. Environmental laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act and the California Environmental Quality Act added science to such matters, as well as public input.

“Our systems are the most ecologically sound on the planet today,” he said. “We want our proposal evaluated on the basis of its scientific legs, rather than its political legs.” San Diego needs water, Davidge said, adding that billions of people all over the world do not have water for basic sanitation, which is defined as washing in a basin once a week and keeping a kitchen clean.

By putting the cistern in the alluvial material under the river, the pipe is buried, fills and runs out into the ocean, “thus the water is not removed from the river’s hydrological system until it enters the ocean,” he said.

He says that scientifically, these are the best two rivers on the Pacific Coast. “I would prefer to go in the areas where I have confidence that we could operate in a responsible manner.” There are historically 20 to 100 year droughts in the American Southwest, he said. He is “delighted” to see the courts force refilling of Mono Lake.He is from Bishop, on the east side of the Sierra Nevada.

“We do care about public opinion,” Davidge said, causing the quietly attentive audience to murmur. Many of them had turned in questions on three-by five cards, and it was clear he could only answer a few. Davidge said he wants to sit down with his team and answer all those questions in writing over his signature. Since the forum, Jim Jordan of Sea Ranch has been working with Davidge on doing that.

The first question was, what makes the Albion and Gualala Rivers scientifically the best for harvesting water? Davidge said they started with a drainage study of the California coast, all the streams that could stand a harvest of 10 -20 thousand acre feet per year, where they could avoid listed and migrating species.

That caused more murmurs in an audience aware of the Gualala River’s famous steelhead run. After his engineering team looked at various factors, of 15 rivers, they selected five, did field inspections of those and selected these two.

Both Anton and Davidge said each river has to have a minimum amount of water, called a bypass flow, even in winter, in order for export to take place. Anton added that AWE would be responsible for monitoring the flow. Davidge said no onshore reservoirs are planned, and full bag storage would be at the point of use in Southern California.

In Turkey they lost a bag in a storm. “We recovered it quickly,” Davidge said, adding that the line between tug and bag is the critical point. The energy of waves passes through the bag. It floats at the surface of the water relatively unaffected by wind.

“It simply becomes water in water,” he said. The size of the bags seems different every time he talks about them.

Impacts on tourism and local economy are considered secondary impacts. “The state has to come back to us and ask us to do a study that addresses such issues,” said Davidge, causing more murmurs from the standing-room-only crowd.

Davidge plans redundancy in water supply in case of drought here. He hopes to buy water from a water utility closer to San Diego, “which has been proposed to us.”

He has an unnamed environmental firm in California, but no lobbyist. “Not that I haven’t been solicited.”

He plans to have people in this community do ongoing environmental assessments, and testing of water. He plans an office and a small tug located in Point Arena, which will be his operational center, and a local security person here. He plans nine bag trips per week, but “not all from this location.”

Davidge wants to go into the river bed once, install the pipe and leave it there with no need for maintenance. He added that the project would be heavily insured and bonded, and that it is fully capitalized, so there would be no need to make a profit for some years into the future.

Forum organizer Jim Jordan asked Sonoma County Supervisor Mike Reilly and Mendocino County Supervisor David Colfax to come up to front, and asked all to help put away the chairs. Many people stayed, seeking to talk to Davidge.

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