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ICO Article: Water bag protesters get ready to roll

An earlier version of this article was published in the
Independent Coast Observer
on August 30, 2002.

Water bag protesters get ready to roll
By Julie Verran

Courtesy Independent Coast Observer, Gualala, CA

After months of delay, the protest period for the plans to pump water from the Gualala and Albion Rivers is ironically set to open on Friday, September 13.

That is the latest word from Water Board Engineer Kathryn Gaffney who oversees the proposals.

Applicant Ric Davidge of Alaska Water Exports has abandoned his proposal to use a second intake just downstream from Switchville on the Gualala River, Gaffney e-mailed local people this week. He now plans only one intake, located below the Gualala Arts Center.

Though his project map submitted to the state has no scale, the intake cistern appears to be at the bottom of the ruined section of old Highway 1 that goes down the steep bank behind the GAC. The cistern and pumps would be located in the river between GAC and the public campground at Gualala Point Regional Park.

Water bag foes up and down the coast have been meeting in public and private just about daily for the past week, gearing up to protest during the 60-day period.

At a meeting Thursday at Sea Ranch on Sonoma County coastal planning, Supervisor Mike Reilly, who also serves on the California Coastal Commission, said the Mendocino and Sonoma County Boards of Supervisors are opposed strongly. The Coastal Commission formally notified the applicant and the state Division of Water Rights that they will also be subject to CCC review in addition to other permits.

Reilly listened to Davidge’s speech here in March.

“Someone with his background and experience in water issues has to be taken seriously,” he said, adding that in view of Davidge’s Saudi and possibly Japanese financing, he may be able to overwhelm this “little state.”

The Sonoma County Supervisors are directors of the county’s water agency. The county general plan revision now under way will be the first in California that has a water resources element, Reilly said.

Economic effects are a political question, Reilly went on, that led Assemblymember Patricia Wiggins (D-Santa Rosa) to bring on her original failed anti-water-bag bill. That bill gave county boards of supervisors a veto over water exports.

Wiggins drafted another bill which passed the legislature near the end of the session. Assembly Bill 858 if signed by the Governor will add a provision to the Fish and Game Code requiring studies by the University of California of the effects of reduced flows in north coast rivers on salmon and steelhead populations before the Water Board could approve or deny water exports.

Federal agencies such as the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Army Corps of Engineers are also concerned with the water bag plan. Many agencies need to take a hand in the issue, Reilly said, to provide redundancy even though the Water board is likely to deny the Davidge application.

Ursula Jones said that the preferred way for the pipeline by AWE seems to be to trench through the beach at the county park, and asked if the county can stop it that way.

“That’s one handle we have that we will pursue,” said Reilly. Others he named are impacts on the estuary, on listed species near shore, olfactory factors, instream trenching two miles back into a river, plus pipeline maintenance activity.

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