| An earlier version of this article was published in the
Independent Coast Observer
on August 9, 2002.
Courtesy Independent Coast Observer, Gualala, CA
Albion and Gualala have support in Fort Bragg for their fight against water bag exports.
Dave Jordan of Friends of the Gualala River was one panelist at a meeting convened by the Alliance for Democracy at Fort Bragg Town Hall recently.
He explained that Alaska Water Exports has applied to pump water from cisterns in the beds of the Albion and Gualala Rivers to large floating water bags offshore and tow the bags to San Diego.
“These people are really serious, and they mean to do this, and if we fight really hard, we may be able to stop them,” he said.
“We will!” cried voices all over the hall.
Linda Perkins from Albion added that both these rivers are declared impaired by sediment under the federal Clean Water Act. The water bag proposal, often described by applicant Ric Davidge as a “straw” could be “the last straw for our already degraded water.”
Jordan went on to say who Davidge is. He was employed in the U. S. Interior Department in the early 1980s during the Reagan administration when James Watt was Secretary of the Interior. Davidge later worked for the state of Alaska when Walter Hickel was governor, and has been “involved in the idea of transporting bulk water since the early ’80s.”
Davidge is president of three linked corporations: Alaska Water Exports, Arctic Ice and Water, and World Water SA, an international consortium with Japanese, Saudi and Norwegian partners.
The State Water Resources Control Board is likely to open a 60-day public and agency comment period soon, Perkins continued. Pulling as much as 15 percent of the annual flow of the Albion could even prevent coho salmon from finding their way back to the river to spawn, because they locate it by smell.
Jordan said the economic effect of the near shore bag and tug operations on tourism could be severe.
“An object the size of three football fields floating six inches below the surface of the water would be an enormous menace to navigation,” he added.
Perkins has a spiritual view. “Water is life. It cannot be equated with money.” The animals and people in the watershed have the water go through themselves and become a part of that river. “We are called to defend that river and its life.”
She urged people to stop buying bottled water, which enriches corporations.
“This water isn’t particularly wonderful – you wouldn’t want to know the sources of some of it.”
Panelist Fred Euphrat, a forester and hydrologist, said that water in 1.5 liter bottles costs about $1 million per acre foot (the amount that would cover an acre of land a foot deep).
“It’s turning into a race, worldwide – who’s going to pay the most for water, and who will be left without any,” said Euphrat, then launched into a chart-heavy slide presentation.
“Every drop of rain that falls can be accounted for in a water budget,” he said. Runoff can be classed as base flow plus stream flow. Base flow is clear; stream flow is turbid with suspended solids. Winter stream flow in the Gualala and the Albion “looks like cafe latte,” not suitable for pulling into a water export system.
“You can’t just put a straw into cloudy water and expect it to come out clear – it doesn’t happen that way,” Euphrat said.
The precedent for water export is there, he went on. Sonoma County already takes Mendocino County water through the Potter Valley diversion from the Eel River to the Russian River.
“That argument [by Davidge] holds water.”
Euphrat estimates the bagging system could be operating every winter day. “This is a very intrusive straw.”
Fish and insects depend on seasonality of flow, which could be altered by the pumping, as could water temperature. The pumping could produce reverse flow and alter salinity and many other aspects of the lower rivers and estuaries.
Estuaries are a source of nutrients and fresh water for the near shore environment, he went on. What impacts could the projects have on the recreational abalone fishery and the commercial urchin fishery?
“They [near shore species] are out there for a reason – they are waiting for nutrients.” Euphrat said.
“This is about growth,” he said in conclusion. “The permit is worth money in San Diego; his promise to serve will allow developers to build there.”
Juliette Beck from Public Citizen’s Water For All campaign spoke last. She said that privatization of water is one of the most frightening trends in the world today. Less than one half of one percent of the world’s water is available for our use; the rest is in oceans and glaciers. A few million people die needlessly every year from water-borne diseases. Corporations see water shortages as opportunities for profit. Two huge French firms are buying up water sources around the world.
“This trend can be stopped,” Beck said.
She gave examples from the U.S. and from other countries where the public recovered privatized water systems. Experience shows that water privatizers do not cut costs and increase services as they claim.
“Eighty-five percent of people in the U.S. get water from a public service provider,” said Beck. The U.S. is a success story in giving access to water to most people in the country. This took tax dollars and infrastructure building over centuries.
The World Bank often requires countries to privatize utility systems in order to qualify for new loans. The World Bank and International Monetary Fund prepare systems for privatization by requiring rate increases.
“It’s totally inhumane all around,” said Beck.
Because the U.S. signed international trade agreements, Davidge may be very hard to stop. He may be able to claim rights under those agreements. World Water SA is an international company registered in Luxembourg. Water rights acquired by Davidge could be transferred.
In conclusion, Beck said that the Albion and Gualala story will be told around the world when the community is “successful in beating back this water baron.”
People who want to be notified when the state opens the comment period can contact Kathryn Gaffney, State Water Resources Control Board, Division of Water Rights, P.O. Box 2000, Sacramento, CA 95812-2000; phone: (916) 341-5300; kgaffney@waterrights. swrcb.ca.gov