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ICO Article: Coast panel ducks water bags

This article was published in the
Independent Coast Observer
on November 15, 2002.

Coast panel ducks water bags
By Julie Verran

Courtesy Independent Coast Observer, Gualala, CA

The California Coastal Commission postponed its discussion of Albion and Gualala River water bag export proposals at the last minute on November 7 in San Diego. The proposals call for extracting water from river estuaries and shipping it to San Diego in tug-hauled water bags the length of three football fields.

Commissioners were scheduled to discuss and vote on a long letter of objection to the water bags directed to the State Water Resources Control Board, which is considering granting water rights for the projects to entrepreneur Ric Davidge.

Coastal Commission Executive Director Peter Douglas said he decided to postpone the water bag discussion because the Water Board effectively granted a time extension for comment.

Douglas said the Commission plans to discuss its water bag letter at the December 10-13 meeting instead. Coastal Commission permits and federal consistency determinations will both be required for any water bag projects, he said. The CCC administers federal coastal law in California.

At the request of Commissioner Mike Reilly, a Sierra Club representative was allowed to speak briefly, alerting the Commissioners that engineering drawings showing water bag positions and intake sites for the Navarro and Mattole Rivers are already in the Water Board files. Reilly is a Sonoma County Supervisor.

Commissioner Scott Peters said the water bags are “not a project of the City of San Diego.” They are a private project, he added. Peters is a San Diego City Council member.

Sierra Club San Diego water expert Ed Kimura, an engineer, has calculated the cost of bringing the water bags into San Diego and finds it would be very high.

An engineer in the Gualala area, Roy Austin, found through a preliminary engineering analysis that the cost of bagged water from North Coast rivers would be four to seven times the current cost of drinking water in southern California. That was without analyzing the cost effect of winter storms. Only huge tugs could haul the water bags, planned to be 875 feet long and 275 feet wide.

“As proposed, bankruptcy is certain which can cause serious environmental and societal impacts on the local and coastal regions, both in terms of the initial development and subsequent abandoned facilities,” Austin states in his engineering summary.

The water Board in late October withdrew public notice of the Albion and Gualala projects because of filing mistakes by applicant Ric Davidge and plan to re-open public and agency comment soon.

In the meantime, people can write to: Peter Douglas, Executive Director, California Coastal Commission, 45 Fremont Street, Suite 2000, San Francisco, CA 94105-2219.

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