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ICO Article: Wiggins hits water bag export proposal

An earlier version of this article was published in the
Independent Coast Observer
on August 2, 2002.

Wiggins hits water bag export proposal
By Julie Verran

Courtesy Independent Coast Observer, Gualala, CA

Assembly Member Pat Wiggins (D-Santa Rosa) went to the Albion School in mid-August for a meeting sponsored by the local Democratic club. She launched a statewide campaign against the proposal to send water from the Gualala and Albion Rivers to San Diego in tug-hauled water bags.

“I have cities in my district that don’t have water,” said Wiggins “Once we start taking water out of Northern California to build cities in the desert we are not dealing with logic.”

The meeting was convened by Rachel Binah, innkeeper and Democratic Party leader, and included members of political and environmental groups, and staff members from the offices of Congressional Representative Mike Thompson, (D-Napa) Assembly Member Virginia Strom-Martin (D-Duncans Mills), and State Senator Wesley Chesbro (D-Arcata).

“Between all of us we should be able to pack this guy back to Alaska,” said Binah.

The Alaskan is Ric Davidge, who served on the staff of former Interior Secretary James Watt, and who has held numerous state and federal posts. Wiggins said that Davidge’s Japanese and Middle Eastern financing makes statewide visibility very important.

“Finding rivers with unallocated flows is the name of the game in the future,” she said. She introduced Sean MacNeil from her Sacramento office, who showed a presentation on the project.

“What I don’t know now, let me know, because I will need it in Sacramento,” said MacNeil. He added that so far, Davidge does not have an agreement with the City of San Diego.

In a triangle of deals, Wiggins said, the Imperial Valley, the Los Angeles Metropolitan Water District, and San Diego are contending with the loss of some Colorado River water, with San Diego at the bottom of the pile.

Doug Hammerstrom of Gualala asked if Davidge gets a water permit, and doesn’t have a contract with San Diego, what happens to the water?

MacNeil said Davidge can sell the water; he can sell it even if he does have a contract with the city.

Hammerstrom, an attorney, said that seems to fly in the face of water law, which says only the water board allocates water, not private individuals.

“In the past,” Hammerstrom said, “the Water Board has not allocated except to end users.”

“This can be a very big, big test case,” said Wiggins. The Water Board is likely to issue a notice of the two projects sometime in September.

MacNeil said that because the Albion and Gualala River projects involve more than 200 acre feet of water (an acre foot covers an acre of land a foot deep) the comment period will be 60 days. During that time public agencies and private individuals can file comments and protests with the Water Board.

Then follows a period during which the sides can iron out their differences. This lasts 180 days and can be extended.

After that there is likely to be an environmental process under the California Environmental Quality Act, the federal National Environmental Policy Act, or both.

Dave Jordan of Gualala explained that Davidge is president of Arctic Ice and Water and Alaska Water Exports which are U.S. firms, as well as being president of World Water SA which is incorporated in Luxembourg; the state can only consider the Alaska firms named on the applications. The partners in World Water SA with Alaska Water Exports are the Abdul Latif Jameel Group of Saudi Arabia, Nippon Yesen Kaisha, said to be the world’s largest shipping line, and Nordic Water Supply, a Norwegian water bag firm.

In his most recent application amendments, Davidge proposes to take 8,700 acre-feet per year from the Gualala and 6,200 feet per year from the Albion. The bag size he proposes is 50,000 metric tons, or 40 acre feet, said Jim Jordan of Sea Ranch.

“If he’s taking water close to the mouth of the river, how does that affect the salmon?” asked Binah.

Strom-Martin’s aide Mary Morgan, who just returned from Alaska where she was checking out Davidge, replied that there is a danger of salt water intrusion as they take fresh water out of the Gualala and Albion Rivers, affecting the fresh water supply in the estuaries, which are nurseries, not just for salmon, but for many species.

A discussion of economic effects of the proposal followed. Nadananda of Friends of the Eel River said her group completed a study on the water export from the Eel to the Russian River.

“The economic damage to Humboldt County is huge,” she said.

The leading industry here is tourism, said Dave Jordan. “The tourists are not coming up here to see industrial-sized tugboats,” he added.

Wiggins said that everybody in the supermarkets should be able to say,

“Oh, that Japanese and Saudi Arabian outfit that wants to take our water to who knows where – and they get it for free!”

Lori Hubbart from Point Arena expanded on that, saying that this is a foreign consortium taking America’s water supply and getting control of it, something that could spell the beginning of the end for this country.

“America should be shaking in its boots,” she said.

“The campaign to raise this issue starts today!” said Guy Conner, Wiggins’s husband.

To send information to Assembly Member Wiggins, email sean.macneil @asm.ca.gov

At the end of August, Wiggins’s Assembly Bill 858, which requires study of such projects by the University of California before state approval, passed the legislature and is now on its way to the Goveror’s desk.

To get information on the projects: www.gualalariver.org; www.albionnation.org; worldwatersa.com

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